HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania smashed its single-day high for reported coronavirus-related deaths, recording 78 more fatalities and nearly 1,600 more cases of COVID-19, as the state Department of Health said Tuesday that every county now has an infected resident.
The count more than doubled the previous single-day high of 34 deaths, and boosted the statewide death toll to 240, although the state health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, said at least some of the deaths occurred over the weekend and were delayed in being reported.
New cases - confirmed Monday through midnight - raised the statewide total to more than 14,550, according to the department.
Levine maintained Tuesday that the best way for people to protect themselves, their families and their communities is to stay home.
Not every state agency is necessarily urging people to stay home: The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission opened trout season Tuesday, an abrupt announcement that was two weeks ahead of schedule to preempt big gatherings of anglers and travel that typically occur on April’s traditional opening day.
Meanwhile, Chester County launched a plan to test thousands of essential workers for coronavirus-fighting antibodies in their blood and Centralia’s famed “graffiti highway” is permanently closed.
More on those developments:
TROUT SEASON BEGINS
Though trout season is open, anglers and boaters must abide by social distancing guidelines, the Fish and Boat Commission said.
“The trout we have been stocking have had time to spread out, and so should you,” Tim Schaeffer, the agency’s executive director, said in a statement.
The commission nonetheless urged anglers and boaters to fish close to home, wear masks or cloth coverings, keep a distance of at least 6 feet from others, only go fishing with family members living in the same household and never share fishing gear.
Not all waters have been stocked, and the commission said it won’t provide a stocking schedule or a list of stocked waters, to further discourage group gatherings.
Workers are backfilling a colorfully marked-up stretch of abandoned highway in Centralia, the Pennsylvania coal town-turned-ghost town.
The former Route 61 is now private property, and it has been drawing crowds as a result of the coronavirus shutdown, said Bobby Hughes, executive director of the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation.
Centralia, which was largely abandoned in the 1980s because of an underground mine fire that still burns today, has long attracted visitors from around the world. But “this pandemic has really changed the entire situation,” and graffiti highway has become too much of a liability for the property owner, Hughes said.
Crews have been dumping and spreading tons of dirt over the abandoned road.
Federal authorities won a stay of a judge’s order to immediately release 22 people being held in civil detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at county jails in Pennsylvania while they await final decisions of their immigration cases.
The 22 people held in prisons in York and Pike counties each have chronic medical conditions and face “an imminent risk of death or serious injury if exposed to COVID-19,” Judge John E. Jones wrote in Tuesday’s decision releasing them.
Jones made their release effective for two weeks, and ordered them to self-quarantine. But Jones later granted a stay after federal lawyers ar,gued that Jones had not considered their legal argument or a factual background on the detainees’ criminal histories.
In a separate decision in recent days, Jones also ordered the release of 13 others. The U.S. holds around 37,000 people in immigration detention.
Separately, two inmates at the Pike County lockup have died after testing positive for the coronavirus, the county said Tuesday. They were among seven inmates at the facility who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
BLOOD ANTIBODY TESTS
To fight the spread of COVID-19, Chester County will start testing the blood of essential workers in an effort to determine who has developed coronavirus antibodies and can fight off the disease.
The tests will be administered to emergency responders, prison staff, health care workers and long-term care facility staff in Chester County. It is unclear how long immunity lasts for people who have had the virus.
The county has received a shipment of 10,000 blood test kits and expect a second shipment of 10,000 to arrive next week.
While Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered a halt to nearly all construction activity to help stop the spread of the virus, work has continued on the $700 million Live! Hotel & Casino in Philadelphia, Spotlight PA reported.
The news organization reported that a project executive disclosed in internal emails that two workers have tested positive for the coronavirus and possibly exposed other workers.
The general contractor had obtained a waiver from Wolf’s administration.
Waivers can be granted for emergency repairs, and the casino’s operator, Cordish Cos., a Baltimore-based developer, said the building “is still exposed to the elements and requires critical enclosure and infrastructure work to be completed before construction work can be safely paused.”
SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA TRANSIT
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority said it will move to a “lifeline” service Thursday with even more limited services across all modes, including some transit stations closing, some rail lines suspending and bus lines limited to core routes.
The announcement comes after three maintenance workers died from the coronavirus.
SEPTA said it is focused on providing access for essential workers traveling to hospitals, grocery stores and other life-sustaining services.
JUVENILES IN CUSTODY
Pennsylvania’s highest court is telling county judges to identify incarcerated juveniles who are good candidates to be released to help mitigate COVID-19.
The Supreme Court issued a 6-0 order Tuesday that told president judges in each county to check into how well their juvenile residential placement facilities can prevent the virus from spreading and to limit how many juveniles are admitted during the crisis.
The high court declined to issue a blanket release order for juveniles in detention.
PHILLY CASH CRUNCH
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said the city is reworking its proposed $5.2 billion budget, warning that tax collections are down dramatically and that the city faces substantial economic headwinds.
The pandemic will likely result in a “painful” reduction of city services, Kenney said. He would not rule out furloughs or layoffs.
“When there’s no money, there’s no money,” Kenney said. “We haven’t been taking in hardly anything.”
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