COVID-19 in Philly: Pandemic fails to slow homicide pace as city count rises 12 percent

By The Philadelphia Tribune

PHILADELPHIA — While the novel coronavirus has slowed most city activity to a crawl, gun violence continues unabated in Philadelphia, where overnight a 9-year-old was fatally shot and two shootings involving four victims each highlighted the continuing problem.

Police have recorded 147 homicides between Jan. 1 and Wednesday morning — a 12% increase from the 131 that occurred during the same time frame in 2019. However, during the city’s daily COVID-19 update, Mayor Jim Kenney attributed the ease with which city residents could obtain firearms to the rising number and not policing obstacles due to the pandemic.

“I don’t think the pandemic is the root of the problem,” Kenney said. “You saw last night with that little boy that was inside the house with a gun that was unsecured.

“I think there are just too many guns in our society in the hands of people who don’t use them properly and don’t secure them properly,” he added.

“But as long as we have guns in our society and they are easier to obtain than a library card or a driver’s license, we are going to have violence,” Kenney explained. “Now obviously the police have to do certain things differently when it comes to masking and keeping themselves safe. But we live in a violent society, a poor city, and people use weapons to take out their frustrations and their beefs. We’re doing our best to get our arms around that.

The 9-year-old boy was shot inside a residence on the 5900 block of North 20th Street in the city’s Ogontz section about 9:27 p.m. Tuesday. He was taken to Albert Einstein Medical Center where he later died, according to the authorities.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said there were family members, including an adult, in the home. She added that police suspected the shooting could be a result of “negligence.” No arrest has been made.

Around 10 p.m. Tuesday, four men, ages 31 to 41, were shot during a single incident in North Philadelphia at 8th and Somerset streets. All were treated overnight at nearby hospitals.

Investigators reported another quadruple shooting on Hart Lane between Ruth and Jasper streets in the Kensington area before 6 a.m. Wednesday. The four men were all reported in stable condition. Police said a dark blue or black Nissan was seen speeding away from the area.

“It’s only May,” said Outlaw, who left Portland, Oregon, to become the city’s top cop in February. “We know the weather is going to get warmer. We need to do what we can to get ahead of this before it gets worse.”

Official Virus Update

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health announced 237 additional confirmed coronavirus cases in Philadelphia, bringing the number to 21,975 since the outbreak started. However, it reported no new cases in nursing homes or county prisons.

The health agency confirmed five fatalities in the city as the COVID-19 death toll among residents reached 1,248, with 663 having resided at long-term care facilities.

Health Precautions Supported

An online survey of 626 city residents found that Philadelphians agree on the importance of public health precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19, which has killed over 100,000 in the United States and about 353,000 worldwide.

Conducted by the city and the University of of Pennsylvania, the survey found:

• 79% of the respondents agree that everyone in Philadelphia needs to make it as easy as possible for those around them to maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet in public places.

• 75% agree that everyone in Philadelphia needs to wear a mask every time they leave the house.

• 75% believe that “staying at home, minimizing your social contact with others, and keeping at least six feet away from others” are important steps to take.

The survey was conducted from May 5 to May 8.

Testing Criteria Expanded

The Department of Public Health is recommending coronavirus testing for anyone, regardless of age, who is known or suspected of having been exposed to the contagion within the last seven days. Other criteria for testing is a new cough, shortness of breath or any of the following symptoms: fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache or loss of taste or smell.

“We’re making these recommendations as a result of the increasing availability of coronavirus testing at public health and commercial laboratories as a key part of the city’s and the state’s plan to re-open safely,” said city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley.

Residents can find the nearest testing site at phila.gov/testing.

The expansion of testing recommendations comes as a result of the increasing availability of coronavirus testing at public health and commercial laboratories. The growing available is a key part of overall plans to re-open locally and statewide safely.

This story first appeared in The Philadelphia Tribune, a publishing partner of the Pennnsylvania Capital-Star.