Your afternoon update on the coronavirus in Pa.: Wave of jobless claims, new virus cases across the state

  • Marc Levy/The Associated Press
  • Mark Scolforo/The Associated Press

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(Harrisburg) — The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania was up by 50% to more than 1,600 cases as record numbers of Pennsylvanians filed for unemployment compensation, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration said Thursday.

The state Department of Health said five more people have died in the last 24 hours, bringing the death toll up to 16.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvanians filed about 650,000 unemployment compensation claims over the past 11 days as the coronavirus has spread and thousands of businesses closed or laid off employees.

In coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania:

Cases

With 560 new cases confirmed by the state Department of Health, there are now more than 1,680 cases in 48 counties.

A total 135 cases have been reported in central Pennsylvania counties: Adams (7), Berks (36), Columbia (3), Cumberland (15), Dauphin (13), Franklin (5), Juniata (1), Lancaster (21), Lebanon (4), Schuylkill (9) and York (21).

Health Secretary Rachel Levine has said the administration expects a surge of patients in the coming weeks, with cases doubling every two to three days. The Wolf administration is putting a heavy emphasis on buying time to help get the state’s health care system ready for that growing flood of patients, Levine said.

 

Jobless claims

The single highest day for unemployment compensation claims, going back to March 15, was Friday, when more than 90,000 people filed claims.

That was the day after Wolf unveiled an order for “non-life-sustaining” businesses to shut down in an effort to help stop the spread of the virus.

Even before that order, unemployment compensation filings in Pennsylvania and many other states had skyrocketed, underscoring how many businesses had already closed or shed workers.

In the seven days through Saturday, Pennsylvanians filed about 379,000 claims, smashing the record for an entire week in the state.

In the four days since then, Pennsylvanians have filed another 271,000, putting the state on course to break last week’s record.

Many businesses across Pennsylvania were closed on March 23, 2020, in response to an order from Gov. Tom Wolf to shutdown non-life sustaining businesses.

Ed Mahon / PA Post

Many businesses across Pennsylvania were closed on March 23, 2020, in response to an order from Gov. Tom Wolf to shutdown non-life sustaining businesses.

A review of weekly data going back to 1987 shows a high of 61,000 in early 2010, when the effects of the Great Recession were taking hold.

In February, when Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate was 4.7%, a household survey estimated that nearly 6.25 million people were working or looking for work, while 309,000 were unemployed.

In perhaps the biggest single layoff, the Greater Philadelphia YMCA told the state it was letting go of 3,400 employees effective last Friday. In an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, president and CEO Shaun Elliot said he fully intends to reopen the non-profit’s branches once it is allowed by the state.

Elliott said the organization’s revenue had dropped “precipitously” when gyms and daycare centers were required to close to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Employees will be paid through April 5 and will be compensated for accrued and unused vacation days, he said.

Easter candy

Just Born, the Bethlehem-based confections company most famous for making marshmallow Peeps, has shut down its Bethlehem and Philadelphia production facilities through April 7 in light of coronavirus concerns.

The company issued a statement saying that it had produced and shipped the Easter supply of Peeps to outlets before the shutdown that took effect Wednesday.

The company also makes a number of other candies including Mike and Ikes and Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews. Just Born said inventories of those candies had been shipped prior to the production stoppage.

Riley Prell, a high-school freshman at Science Leadership Academy, is isolated at home with his two parents and his college-aged sister.

Jessica Kourkounis / Keystone Crossroads

Riley Prell, a high-school freshman at Science Leadership Academy, is isolated at home with his two parents and his college-aged sister.

Remote education

Pennsylvania schools that have been closed for nearly two weeks face a new challenge — legislation requiring them to “make a good faith effort” to continue to educate children.

Schools have to submit their plans to the state Education Department, and it’s already causing some to consider creative approaches, according to Mark DiRocco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.

Among ideas being floated, he said, are to have school bus drivers deliver instructional materials along their normal routes, or to fire up Wi-Fi at school buildings so families without internet connections can download material from the parking lot.

The law, which passed both legislative chambers late Wednesday, will be signed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in the coming days, his spokeswoman said.

It directs the Education Department to provide guidance to all school entities, and the department has previously said there are options. Schools can go forward with “planned instruction,” teaching new material much as they were before COVID-19 shutdown.

They may also do “enrichment and review,” consisting of more informal instructions that “reinforce or extend” what they were previously taught.

Either way, the agency has said, schools have to address all students’ needs, including those with disabilities and children whose first language is not English.

In Philadelphia, the district hopes to purchase 50,000 computer notebooks to distribute to needy students. Only half the district’s high school students have both a laptop or tablet and a sufficient internet connection to work from home

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Claudia Lauer and AP writer Maryclaire Dale contributed from Philadelphia. 

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