COVID-19 in Philadelphia: Massive layoffs are expected across the city

The skyline in Center City Philadelphia (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — The coronavirus pandemic is expected to exact huge layoffs across the city.

“Our city is looking at massive layoffs not just at the airport but across the city in multiple industries,” City Manager Brian Abernathy said during the Kenney administration’s daily briefing on Thursday.

More than 600 Philadelphia International Airport workers were laid off on Thursday, including security officers, baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, and wheelchair attendants.

Abernathy called on employers to continue to pay employees, especially low-wage workers.

“It’s incredibly important that these people have some support,” Abernathy said.

The governor has ordered all businesses that are not “life-sustaining” to close through at least March 27, leaving many employees in dine-in restaurants, retail, and most daycare centers out of work.

Philadelphia Housing Authority offers rent waivers

The Philadelphia Housing Authority will defer rent payments for some residents and offer free meals at six locations.

Residents living in PHA housing who have experienced financial hardship, such as the loss of a job or a decrease in hours, can apply for a hardship waiver to delay paying rent, said PHA President Kelvin Jeremiah in a letter issued Thursday.

Those rent payments will be made retroactive.

Residents with Housing Choice Vouchers can also apply for a financial hardship waiver. They should contact their PHA representative or submit electronic requests and documents via email at [email protected] or call (215) 684-4300.

Starting Friday, the housing authority has also waived all late rent payment fees for March and April.

PHA offices are closed through March 31, but PHA is still collecting rent payments through secure site office mailboxes.

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As of March 13, PHA suspended all evictions for 30 days.

Starting on Monday, PHA will also offer free “grab-n-go” meals — breakfast and lunch — at six housing facilities:

  • Abbottsford Homes Community Center, 3226 McMichael St.
  • Bartram Village Community Center, 5404 Gibson Drive
  • Raymond Rosen Homes Community Center, 2301 W. Edgley St.
  • John F. Street Community Center, 1100 Poplar St.
  • Wilson Park Community Center, 2500 Jackson St.
  • West Park Apartments Community Center, 300 N. Busti St.

PHA will only conduct emergency service repairs through March 31. Residents with routine maintenance related issues should continue to call (215) 684-8920.

All PHA recertification and interim recertification appointments will no longer be conducted in-person. Recertification appointment letters will include the recertification packet that residents will be required to complete, sign and return with the required income and verification documents for their household.

New testing center expected in South Philadelphia

A drive-thru rapid-testing site at Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia is expected to open this afternoon.

The new site will be open from 2 to 6 p.m. every day as long as supplies allow.

A doctor’s note or prescription is not needed to be eligible. Based on limited testing capacity, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health is restricting eligibility for testing at this site to the following groups of people: those who are over 50 years of age and are displaying symptoms consistent with COVID-19; healthcare workers who are displaying symptoms consistent with COVID-19, including hospital and doctors office staff with direct patient contact; nursing home staff with direct patient contact; people who perform Emergency Medical Services duties and home healthcare staff with direct patient contact.

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Entry into the site is only open to people in four-wheel, closed-top, non-commercial, non-recreational vehicles. Walk-ins will not be permitted access to the site.

Due to staffing and supply limitations, people who do not meet the criteria listed above will be turned away. Should testing capacity be increased, the Health Department will expand these criteria.

People who meet the eligibility criteria and are seeking to be tested should bring the following items to ensure a smooth admission and testing process: government-issued identification card; healthcare facility identification card, if applicable; and an insurance card. These items are not required to be tested, but will help ease processing and data collection at the site.

City, state and federal agencies are collaborating on the site.

The city recommends that anyone who has the following symptoms of COVID-19 call their regular healthcare provider to identify other sites to be tested for coronavirus. Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Recreation centers, park facilities closed starting today

Friday is the first day all playgrounds, athletic courts and city recreational facilities were shut down due to the growing pandemic.

The closures will last through at least March 27.

Parks, fields and trails will remain open. Officials encouraged individuals to use those public spaces but practice social distancing.

Food distribution at rec centers remain open Friday

Fifty recreation centers and six adult centers will remain open today to continue to provide food at 3 p.m. They are not open on the weekend.

City officials will provide updates on meal pickup locations starting Monday.

Free meals for students

The city and school district continue to provide free meals for children 18 and younger.

The meals are available between 9 a.m. and noon at 30 locations in the city.

A full list of where students and parents can get the meals can be found by visiting https://www.phila.gov/2020-03-14-find-free-meals-and-safe-spaces-for-students-while-schools-are-closed/

How will houses of worship survive?

Religious leaders are questioning how they respond and maintain their congregations in the age of social distancing.

“Most houses of faith are struggling to get their balance,” said the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.

Tyler, whose church has approximately 700 members, said many religious leaders he has spoken to expect to not hold services for the next two months.

Tyler did not expect the crisis to hurt most well-established houses of worship with larger congregations.

For example, Mother Bethel A.M.E. in Philadelphia has moved to a digital format during the crisis. The church has already offered online service and programs and collected online donations for years.

But the restrictions on gathering and movement may have a significant impact on more recently established religious communities.

“They don’t even know if they’ll make it through this particular crisis,” Tyler said about newer churches. “It’s not necessarily the money but it’s what gathering means.

“If you can’t gather for two months and you don’t have a backup plan, you don’t know how to work it out digitally — what happens to members during that time? … Is it just the end of someone’s ministry?”

Many religious communities remain unsure how to help their followers, too.

Leaders at Mother Bethel A.M.E. had originally considered visiting senior citizens who are part of their congregation, but were dissuaded because seniors are those who are at a high risk of catching COVID-19.

“When you’re being told that physical contact with people is really the most dangerous thing, then how does a house of faith, which is pretty much at its best when being in physical contact with people to help them and to serve them, how do you do it?” Tyler asked.

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