COVID-19 in Philly: City has highest death toll since outbreak, but spread appears to be slowing

Cots are spread out on the floor of the Liacouras Center. (Photo via the Philadelphia Tribune/Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management).

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — The city suffered its highest daily death toll from the virus on Friday. The 33 new fatalities of city residents brought total deaths to 137.

The increase in fatalities was expected, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said. Deaths lag behind reported confirmed cases of the coronavirus, he said, so this week’s death rate reflected last week’s jump in positive cases.

Sixty-seven of the coronavirus victims were nursing home residents. Individuals over the age of 70 accounted for 65 percent of all deaths (89).

“What we thought was going to be the case in the beginning is true,” Farley said. “Most of the people who die from this infection are particularly vulnerable: They’re elderly people; people who have chronic illnesses.

“However, there are some people who are younger and healthy who got this infection and who have not survived.”

While virus-related deaths were up, Farley said the spread of the virus appeared to be slowing for a third day in a row.

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The city logged 522 new positive cases on Friday, up 10 percent from the previous day, bringing the total to 5,793 since the outbreak began in the city in March.

A total of 64 inmates in city jails have tested positive for the virus after five new cases were reported. Two inmates have recovered from the disease.

The daily positive rate was in line with previous days, which Farley said was an indication the growth of the virus was slowing here.

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But Farley stressed that social distancing measures and the stay-at-home order must continue to prevent a further outbreak.

“If we start behaving as we behaved before all this began, there’s no question: The virus will surge again,” he said.

A steady increase of patients with the virus continue to enter city and regional hospitals.

On Friday, city hospitals were treating 717 individuals with the infection, up 14 percent from the previous day. A total of 1,231 patients were in hospitals in both Philadelphia and the southeast Pennsylvania region, up nearly 10 percent from Thursday.

Race, ethnicity data on those testing positive

City officials might soon have data on the race and ethnicity of those testing positive for the virus.

The city was attempting to link “other databases” that include the race and ethnicity of individuals with those testing positive for the coronavirus in order to reveal that demographic data for those with the infection, Farley said. He did not have additional details.

But whether that plan will work remains uncertain.

“I’m not even sure that it’s going to be possible that we’re going to be able to pick this up,” Farley said. “It’s not something we do ordinarily.”

Philadelphia lacked data on the race and ethnicity of those testing positive for the virus at a time when other major U.S. cities were reporting alarming rates of positive cases and deaths in African Americans.

The city stopped providing racial data on the individuals who test positive this week because unreliable data was available for only 15 percent of the cases.

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