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Pennsylvania Tops 50K With Virus; Rate Of New Cases Declines

coronavirus_0.jpg
Matt Rourke
/
AP
A person shows her support for medical professionals as they demand safer working conditions and policies during a May Day protest near Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, Friday, May 1, 2020.

Pennsylvania has passed 50,000 confirmed coronavirus infections, state health officials reported Monday.

About 825 additional people tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the Health Department. There were 14 new deaths, raising the statewide total to 2,458.

The numbers of new infections and deaths have been trending down, prompting Gov. Tom Wolf to allow construction work statewide to resume and golf courses, marinas, guided fishing trips and privately owned campgrounds to reopen. On Friday, he plans to lift his stay-at-home order and allow some retail shops to reopen in the least impacted parts of the state.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than the state’s confirmed case count because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. There is no data on how many people have recovered.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

In other coronavirus-related developments:

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UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

People who applied to a new federal benefits program for self-employed and gig-economy workers and others barred from receiving traditional unemployment should begin to see the money next week, state officials said Monday.

About 150,000 workers have applied to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which is being administered by the state’s unemployment compensation office. The state began accepting applications April 18, but said it wasn’t immediately able to begin processing weekly claims as it built out the system.

Applicants should be able to file weekly claims by the end of this week, Labor & Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said Monday.

The state has received more than 1.7 million applications for regular unemployment since mid-March. It has paid more than $5.3 billion in benefits. By contrast, the system paid nearly $1.8 billion in regular unemployment compensation benefits all of last year, officials said.

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FEDERAL SCHOOLS AID

Pennsylvania is applying for $524 million in emergency, one-time federal aid to help schools respond to the pandemic.

The Department of Education said Monday it expects the federal government to approve its application within one week. Schools can use the money to pay for meals for students, technology, cleaning supplies, summer and after-school programs and for other expenses related to the virus.

Under the federal emergency rescue bill signed by President Donald Trump in March, at least 90% of the money must go to public schools and charter schools. The state Education Department said it plans to use the rest the money to support things like remote learning.

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PRISON HOT SPOT

The Pennsylvania Corrections Department is dealing with a second COVID-19 outbreak, as 18 employees and 27 inmates have been infected at the State Correctional Institution-Huntingdon.

Overall, according to the prison system, 101 employees and 58 inmates have been sickened, including 48 employees and 28 inmates at SCI-Phoenix, in the Philadelphia suburbs.

The gym at SCI-Huntingdon has been converted into an infirmary where inmates who test positive for the virus are isolated, Corrections spokeswoman Maria Finn said Monday.

There is also enhanced screening of employees and vendors entering SCI-Huntingdon. Voluntary testing is available at the prison for any employee who fails the screening.

SCI-Huntingdon is located in the central part of Pennsylvania, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of Altoona.

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PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT

The state has launched a decontamination system that can sanitize the N95 respirator masks that are in short supply for health care personnel, Randy Padfield, the director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, said Monday.

PEMA has signed agreements with 150 health care institutions around the state. The system is designed to address the problem of getting masks for health care workers, Padfield told a state Senate committee hearing.

Meanwhile, the state health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, said the Department of Health will stop supplying personal protective equipment to hospitals that are restarting elective procedures, and it will focus on supplying hospitals that are still struggling with high numbers of coronavirus patients.

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NURSING HOMES

Top officials in a suburban Philadelphia county asked the Wolf administration on Monday to separate virus infections in nursing homes from virus infections in the rest of the community for the purpose of deciding when to lift pandemic restrictions.

Under Wolf’s reopening plan, a county must report fewer than 50 new infections per 100,000 residents over 14 days to qualify for consideration. Delaware County is well above that, driven in part by infections plaguing dozens of nursing homes. Three-quarters of Delaware County’s 258 COVID-19 deaths have been among residents of the facilities.

County officials said they view the challenge at nursing homes as separate from how the virus is impacting the greater community.

“Southeastern Pennsylvania is the economic engine that drives the state economy and contributes a disproportionate share of the state’s tax revenue. It is incumbent to get that economic engine back up and running as quickly as safely possible,” the Delaware County Council said in a written statement.

Levine, the health secretary, responded Monday that it’s important to include nursing home infections in the overall tally because “we are all connected,” with staff going back and forth to work.