Another COVID-19 lockdown in Philly this winter? Mayor Kenney isn’t saying ‘No’

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADLEPHIA — The Kenney administration has not ruled out reimposing a full lockdown in response to another wave of the novel coronavirus in the city during the colder months ahead.

While Philadelphia’s coronavirus numbers are trending downward as school prepares to begin virtually, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley put residents on notice that “things could get worse.”

“I wouldn’t rule out anything,” said Farley about future restrictions, including reinstitution of the closure of all nonessential businesses. “We really don’t know what this virus is going to do when we get to the late fall and winter.”

Colder weather brings low humidity, creating more suitable conditions for respiratory viruses, like the coronavirus, to linger and spread, Farley said on Thursday during a news conference held via video conference. Other respiratory viruses begin to arrive in September and peak around January and February.

City health officials reported 88 additional cases on Thursday with no new deaths. The city’s total positive tests reached 33,343 since the start of the outbreak and deaths remained flat at 1,749. African Americans account for the most cases (44.4%) and deaths (48.2%).

Farley said the city is making progress on restricting the spread of the virus, hitting a 3% positive test rate and consistently reporting fewer than 100 cases a day.

Indoor dining remains on track to resume starting Sept. 8 with restrictions, which include capping indoor restaurant capacity at 25%, no bar service, and a midnight closing time.

ID requirements coming for free-student meals

A new requirement for free student meals may reduce access to food, Mayor Jim Kenney warned.

Parents and students must provide a School District of Philadelphia student identification number to receive “grab-and-go” meals at school locations starting Sept. 3. Students must be enrolled in a district school or one of the following charter schools to access the free meals:

  • Kipp West PHL Preparatory Charter;
  • Philadelphia Electric and Tech Charter;
  • Math Civic and Science Charter;
  • Prep Charter School of Math;
  • Science Tech and Careers; or
  • Multi Cultural Academy Charter.

The ID requirement is a turnaround for the district, which has been providing free meals since March to any child at more than 40 district sites.

The policy change is a result of the U.S. Department of Agriculture not extending a waiver for the federal National School Lunch Program that has allowed any student to pick up free meals at any school without ID.

The mayor said the new ID requirement could lead to students missing out on free meals and his administration continues to lobby to reinstate the waiver. Kenney blamed the Trump administration for failing to renew the waiver.

“It’s just one of those things that this government does to make life harder for people,” Kenney said.

The city and school district’s free-meal distribution sites and schedules also will see changes.

Beginning Sept. 3, the school district will offer free student meals only on Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon at more sites (62). Abraham Lincoln High School and Horace Furness High School will no longer serve as student meal distribution sites.

The city will provide free food between 10 a.m. and noon only on Thursdays at 31 sites.

Both the city and school district previously provided free meals two days a week. The reduction was due to a change in the food providers operating the programs.

The food program had no end in sight, Kenney said.

“I don’t see a date for certain this will stop,” he said.

An up-to-date list of sites and schedules is available here.

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.