Pa. is getting hammered by new COVID cases. Can a new lockdown be far behind? | Thursday Morning Coffee

George W Nebinger Public School (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

With Pennsylvania rocked by a fall surge in COVID-19 infections, a loud voice in the state’s medical community is speaking up.

On Wednesday, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia recommended that schools across the metropolitan Philadelphia region revert to virtual instruction, as it warned of a “catastrophic situation”, the Inquirer reported. The news came even as the Philadelphia public schools nixed plans to stop hybrid instruction, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune reported.

Speaking to the Inquirer on Wednesday, David Rubin, the head of CHOP’s PolicyLab, said that while most infections of children and teachers appeared to be taking place away from the classroom, there was “increasing evidence” that the virus was being transmitted in schools around the Philly area. And there may be even more because contact tracers haven’t been able to keep pace with an exploding caseload, the newspaper also noted.

“We are sort of at the collapse of these plans” for school reopenings, Rubin told the Inquirer, adding, “We are in a catastrophic situation in the Philadelphia region.”

Which begs the question: How long before the rest of Pennsylvania, which has seen skyrocketing increases in cases this week, faces the same scenario?

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine warns of a ‘fall resurgence’ of COVID-19 cases during a news conference on Monday, 10/19/20 (screen capture)

Pennsylvania’s fall surge of COVID-19 cases continued unabated Wednesday as the state reached another all-time high in cases, with 4,711 people testing positive for the disease, the Capital-Star reported Wednesday, citing state Health Department data.

That’s an increase of 350 cases from Tuesday’s previous peak high of 4,361 cases. The Health Department has confirmed a total of 243,368 cases in all 67 counties since the pandemic began in March. The agency confirmed a total of 59 new deaths, for a total of 9,145 fatalities statewide.

On Monday, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said the state has no immediate plans for a statewide shutdown of schools, as was the case last spring, PennLive reported. However, the state has advised local schools to shift toward remote learning or even cease classroom instruction, PennLive reported.

“We absolutely do not plan to have a general school closure as happened in spring, but we might continue to make adjustments to our recommendations to schools,” Levine said, according to PennLive. “Remember, all the guidance and recommendations are just that. They are not orders and there is local control in Pennsylvania and those decisions are being made by local authorities.”

President-elect Joe Biden speaks during a rally in Wilmington, Del. on Saturday, 11/7/20 (Screen Capture)

On Monday, President-elect Joe Biden unveiled the members of his COVID-19 task force and urged all Americans to wear masks. However, reporting suggested Wednesday that the incoming administration would have a hard time enforcing a nationwide mask mandate.

Still, even with cases spiking, there do not appear to be plans for any new shutdown in the works. Take Bucks County, for instance, where cases are at their highest since the beginning of the pandemic. There, county commissioners said masks, not a shutdown, are the answer, the local Patch.com site reported this week.

“A lot of people are wondering, are we going to shut down again … ,” Diane Ellis Marseglia, chairwoman of the Bucks County Board of Commissioners, said during a Tuesday news conference, Patch reported. “There is no reason that we will have to do that if everyone is wearing a mask.”

Gov. Tom Wolf has similarly brushed off suggestions of a new shutdown, even as his administration has pleaded with Pennsylvanians to wear a mask and practice social distancing.

In a statement, Wolf administration spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger did not specifically address questions about whether some Pennsylvania counties might be moved back to yellow or red phases of reopening.

“We are seeing our highest numbers of cases since the pandemic began, and it is essential that people follow the mitigation efforts in place as we work to protect Pennsylvanians. We need Pennsylvanians to be united in wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, washing our hands and avoiding gatherings. It is only by working together that Pennsylvanians can prevent the spread of the virus,” Kensinger said.

Speaking to schools specifically, Kensinger did say that “since the beginning of the school year the administration has provided weekly COVID-19 community transmission information to Pre-K to 12 schools so they can use this information as a basis to determine instructional models during the 2020-21 school year (Full Remote, In-between, of Full In-Person).”

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Elizabeth Hardison
 leads our coverage with an interactive graphic tracking the drop-off in Democratic support for candidates for Pennsylvania’s three, statewide row offices. Republicans captured two of three seats last week.

Stephen Caruso, meanwhile, charts the demise of long-serving House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, of Allegheny County, who lost his bid for re-election and conceded to his Republican opponent on Tuesday. Democrats pick new leaders today, and it’s expected to be a free-for-all as lawmakers jockey for position.

From your humble newsletter author, a look at Wednesday’s spike in COVID-19 cases and the latest data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania, leading a coalition of civil rights groups, has filed a motion to intervene in an ‘outrageous’ Trump campaign lawsuit seeking to halt the certification of presidential results, our Hearken Election SOS Fellow Kenny Cooper reports.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Ana White has a few thoughts on how we can move to a better country after one of the most divisive presidential contests in recent memory. And from a former history teacher of the year, a new maxim for our pandemic era: Resolve is what you do when everyone is watching.

(Photo via The Philadelphia Tribune)

Elsewhere.
Pennsylvania’s prisons face a ‘full-blown’ resurgence of COVID-19, the Inquirer reports.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is (jokingly) seeking Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s offer of a $1 million reward for evidence of voter fraud, the Tribune-Review reports.
Central Pennsylvania election officials say they see no evidence of fraudPennLive reports. And it’s Republicans saying it, the newspaper notes.
With COVID-19 cases rising, some Pa. lawmakers are calling for the release of terminally ill prison inmatesSpotlight PA reports (via the Morning Call).
The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference is canceling the balance of its fall season and championship games. The winter season is up in the air, the Citizens-Voice reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day. 

The incoming Biden administration could end up being a boon for tourism in Delaware, WHYY-FM reports.
Legal experts tell WITF-FM that the Trump campaign’s push in federal court to block the certification of Pennsylvania’s election results is a long shot — but could complicate the vote count, WITF-FM reports.
The final, unofficial count shows Joe Biden beating Donald Trump in Erie County, GoErie reports.
Political experts at California State University weighed in on the election during a virtual forum on Wednesday, the Uniontown Herald-Standard reports.
Stateline.org looks at the yawning budget holes facing some states after voters rejected some tax hikes.
NYMag’s Intelligencer looks at the hard deadlines that could bring about the end of President Donald Trump’s epic temper tantrum.

What Goes On.
The House comes in at 1 p.m. The Senate comes in at 2 p.m.
House Dems, and the full Senate are scheduled to hold internal leadership elections today.
1 p.m.: Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine holds a virtual briefing on COVID-19.

Heavy Rotation.
Some heavy grime for your Thursday? You’re welcome. Here’s EDNA, featuring Skepta, and ‘Try Me.’

Thursday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link.
Friendlies are an exercise in greed and narcissism in the age of COVID-19, The Guardian opines. We agree.

And now you’re up to date.

John L. Micek
A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press