Pennsylvania ready for a partial reopening; Philly, New Jersey not there yet

Pennsylvania ready for a partial reopening; Philly, New Jersey not there yet

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read May 2020 — Along the East Coast, states are phasing in the reopening of their respective economies after weeks of economic inactivity as a result of the coronavirus. In the Northeast, Pennsylvania is the latest state to begin the battle of balancing public health and economic recovery by partially opening 24 counties along the northwest and north-central regions of the state beginning Friday. Most notable during this process, Philadelphia County, a major economic driver for the state and its most populous county, will remain shut down. Across the Delaware Valley, New Jersey remains in a health battle as Gov. Phil Murphy extended his shelter in place order for another 30 days.

“Over the past two months, Pennsylvanians in every corner of our commonwealth have acted collectively to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a press release. “We have seen our new case numbers stabilize statewide and while we still have areas where outbreaks are occurring, we also have many areas that have few or no new cases.” The 24 counties reopening on Friday are Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango and Warren. These counties were deemed ready to move to a reopening because of low per-capita case counts, the ability to conduct contact tracing and testing, and appropriate population density to contain community spread, according to the governor’s office.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney says he’s “not going to sacrifice people’s lives” in reopening the city too soon during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to local news sources. Kenney said there is no timetable as to when the city will open. “You can’t set a timeline. The timeline is what the virus dictates. We certainly have targeted things we’d like to see happen, but unless the data indicates that it’s safe, then it’s not safe,” Kenney said, according to CBS 3 Philly. 

Gov. Wolf urged citizens to adhere to all social distancing and health guidelines. “Every human-to-human contact is a chance for the virus to spread, so more contacts mean a higher likelihood of an outbreak,” Wolf said. “If we see an outbreak occur in one of the communities that has been moved to yellow, we will need to take swift action, and revert to the red category until the new case count falls again. So, Pennsylvanians living in a county that has been moved to the yellow category should continue to strongly consider the impact of their actions.”

In New Jersey, Gov. Murphy erred on the side of caution, as the state continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. “I want to make it absolutely clear that this action does not mean that we are seeing anything in the data which would pause our path forward, and it should not be interpreted by anyone to mean we are going to be tightening any of the restrictions currently in place. These declarations, unless extended, expire after 30 days,” Murphy said. 

No formal timeline was given as to when the economy will reopen. In the meantime, Murphy urged residents to continue to observe all social distancing and health guidelines. “If this extension of the public health emergency signals one thing, it is this: we can’t give up one bit on the one thing that we know that is working in this fight, social distancing,” Murphy said. “Remember, in the absence of either a vaccine, or proven therapeutics for COVID-19 specifically, our only cure is social distancing, covering our faces, washing our hands with soap etc. And we know, by the way, that the effort of millions in this state is working. We have made enormous strides, folks, unlike any American state. Let’s keep it that way.”


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South Jersey and Philadelphia transition into online learning

South Jersey and Philadelphia transition into online learning

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read April 2020As the coronavirus reduced daily activity to only essential services, educational institutions were forced to transition at a moment’s notice into a virtual setting as shelter-in-place measures and social distancing became commonplace. Entire curriculums, testing, labs, and even physical education in some cases, transitioned into an online classroom setting as teachers and students of all grade levels resumed their education under the COVID-19 pandemic. 

These risk-management decisions stressed and challenged the infrastructure of universities, colleges, and schools throughout the nation, while at the same time creating opportunities for innovation in the educational landscape. Although fully online classes are a temporary measure to slow the spread of COVID-19, and as local, state and national governments consider what a reopened economy may look like, educational systems alike are being forced to mitigate the challenges and innovate their educational practices and offerings via learning innovation and digitalization.

In the Philadelphia region, Neumann University transitioned quickly into an online learning setting thanks to close to two years of prior preparation. For the last 24 months, the university has been expanding its online and remote learning capabilities, President Chris Domes told Invest: Insights in a virtual interview. “Our faculty were well-prepared. Our students work off of their devices and their phones, they already live in a virtual world socially, and now they get to live in a virtual world academically,” Domes said. In similar fashion, in New Jersey, the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden, was preparing for a shift in the educational landscape as early as February. In February, the university created an emergency operation center as part of its risk-management strategy, school of nursing Dean Donna Nickitas told Invest: Insights in a virtual interview. “By the time we got to spring break, we knew we were going to have to make some quick changes,” Nickitas said. The nursing school quickly notified students if they needed resources like computers, webcams, and access to remote learning software.

Under the COVID-19 landscape, tuition-dependent institutions are among the most vulnerable as students are liable to put their education plans on pause as they grapple with loss of employment and income. Colleges and universities with strong endowments and alumni contributions will likely survive the impact of COVID-19, but declines in revenue and increases in costs will likely loom for the coming academic years. Declining revenues could stifle innovation as institutions reprioritize budgets and offerings. 

However, a life post-COVID-19 may be ripe with opportunities for innovation and further streamlining of classes. COVID-19 helped destigmatize fully online learning. Moving forward, educational leaders will likely see online education as more than a source for extra revenues. Instead, online education will likely become an integral part of institutional resilience and academic continuity. Educational institutions will have to rethink how they plan for, fund, and market online learning. More unified institutions will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, as online courses and student support functions become more centralized and integrated into existing academic structures and processes. 

After student outreach efforts, Neumann University found that close to 80 percent of its students were adjusting well to the remote learning setting. The university is working to assist all of its students with resources like tutoring, student engagement activities, counseling, and more. The feedback gathered from students will help determine what innovations and changes the institution needs to make for the future, according to Domes. “We are getting initial feedback from our students and are utilizing that to help us understand that moving forward if we remain in this status for some time what are we learning and how might we make this more appropriate for students in the future so that we make sure we are adapting along the way,” he said. For Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden, the school is preparing to continue to groom the next generation of nurses and healthcare professionals. “What we have learned is that we need to be prepared, Nickitas said. Though summer and fall enrollments figures will likely fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nickitas hopes the essentiality of nurses and healthcare professionals will motivate more students to explore a career in medicine. “I do hope that because of the kind of publicity that TV stations and media are giving nurses, that people understand not only what nurses do, but what they know. Hopefully, that will resonate with some individuals and inspire them to say, ‘I want to make a difference, that is what I want to do.’”

Additionally, it is possible that online learning goes truly global as colleges and universities expand their student base to allow for more international students who may never see the inside of a physical campus. 

The lasting impact of COVID-19 to the educational sector remains to be seen. For the time being, it is likely that students will finish the spring semester and potentially the 2019-2020 school year from the comfort of their homes. As educators prepare for summer and fall semesters, they will have to contend with the challenges and opportunities of educating students in a post-COVID-19 world.       

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Networking at Noon, webinars keep Burlington Regional Chamber members informed

Networking at Noon, webinars keep Burlington Regional Chamber members informed

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read April 2020 — The novel coronavirus forced a global halt to major international, regional and local events. From the NBA season to networking conferences, all gatherings of any size stopped abruptly in an effort to flatten the curve and prevent COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, from spreading further. However, as the population at large becomes accustomed to social distancing, stay at home orders and self quarantining, many events went from a hard stop to full speed ahead virtually. As the business community adjusts to the challenges of the disruption caused by the coronavirus, many institutions are building value and maintaining relationships with patrons by maximizing the use of webinars, online classes, video conferences and even virtual happy hours.


In its “Staying Connected” series, Invest: is talking to leaders in various markets about their efforts to, well … stay connected.

South Jersey institutions like the Burlington Regional Chamber of Commerce are shifting to video meetings to stay connected and provide value to members and nonmembers alike in the current landscape. “We are providing as much digital content and opportunities as possible to both members and nonmembers. Our goal is to be a partner and resource for the business community at large,” President and CEO Kristi M. Howell told Invest: South Jersey. “We are offering several different options. Networking at Noon takes place every Monday and it is strictly a virtual business card exchange. We are providing webinars, both live and recorded, on issues and benefits around COVID-19. Most importantly, we are providing educational webinars to strengthen professional development. It’s important that we keep our eye on the future and continue to educate our members on essential business tools so that we all pull out of this stronger.”

For the chamber, it’s all about doing “what we do best for our members on a different platform. We have moved everything that we can online and it’s business as usual for most things, but remotely. We have modified communications and have suspended normal newsletters in favor of those that are pertinent to this ever changing situation. We are focusing on highlighting five to seven members a week in our Meet Our Members series and we continue to make introductions for those who are doing business or modifying their business model for today’s climate,” Howell said.  

The video conference platform, Zoom, has quickly become ubiquitous across the virtual events space. Across economic sectors, different institutions are taking advantage of Zoom and similar platforms. To host a successful virtual event, event planners must decide between hosting a virtual meeting or a webinar. “If you expect attendees to mostly just listen,” the best option is a webinar, Zoom advises as part of its digital event best practices. “When you need more back and forth between the audience and the host,” planners should choose a virtual meeting, the platform advises. 

Once the type of digital event has been narrowed down, hosts should hardwire the internet connection to prevent any Wi-Fi-related hiccups or virtual lag. In terms of audio, hosts should test speakers and audio prior to the meeting and minimize any background noise, according to Zoom. Additionally, hosts should dress to impress and make sure to start the virtual event on time. It is important to set the tone of the event and encourage Q&A’s during the virtual meeting or webinar. As a best practice, Zoom recommends the use of the Chat function to keep track of questions and comments. For larger webinars, Zoom offers a Paypal integration to charge the registration fees seamlessly. 

For the time being, social distancing will be part of the mainstream business landscape until at least May. However, many institutions are adjusting and pivoting more and more to the virtual hosting model to build value, share information and regain a sense of community in a time where residents are being asked to self-isolate as much as possible.  

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