By Ayana Jones
PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia health commissioner, Dr. Tom Farley, warned Thursday that the city is experiencing a dangerous period in the coronavirus epidemic.
“Our overall message now is that the epidemic is surging,” he said during a virtual news conference.
“What was once safe is now dangerous with the change in the weather. So we are starting to see the severe outcomes that we worried most about. This is possibly the worst period of the epidemic. That’s why we put in place the restrictions that we announced on Monday.”
The restrictions go into effect Friday and last until Jan. 1.
The ban on private and public indoor gatherings involving people from more than one household includes prohibitions on weddings, birthdays and baby showers.
Indoor dining at restaurants is banned, although outdoor dining and takeout services can continue. Theaters, bowling alleys, museums, libraries, casinos, gyms and senior day services also are banned.
Retail stores and indoor malls can operate with a maximum density of five people per 1,000 square feet. Parks, trails, playgrounds and athletic fields will remain open for individual use only.
Farley said he understands that businesses are frustrated by the restrictions and highlighted why they must be put in place.
“Everyone is tired of this, but remember that there are more people with the virus than ever and the virus is spreading more readily than ever before,” he said.
“If we don’t act now, there is a risk that our hospitals may be overrun. We may have hundreds to over 1,000 deaths just before the end of this year.
“We have to remember these restrictions are temporary — just six weeks — but death is permanent,” he said.
“If we can turn this epidemic around now, we’ll have a quicker rebound when this wave subsides.”
The city reported 765 additional confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. That brings the number of confirmed cases to 57,237. The Philadelphia Public Health Department also announced 46 new probable cases were detected in rapid antigen tests.
There have been three additional fatalities in the city. That brings the number of residents who have died from the virus in Philadelphia to 1,945, including 924 (48%) who were long-term care facility residents.
Farley said virus activity is increasing in nursing homes and congregate settings.
He said the number of people being hospitalized in Philadelphia due to COVID is rising. As of Thursday morning, 542 people were hospitalized with the virus.
Farley said the virus is being spread in office workplaces, health care settings, households, restaurants and small social gatherings. Some Halloween parties also contributed to the spread, he said.
Farley encouraged people to stay at home as much as they can, stay away from others and not get together with friends and family to help prevent the virus from spreading.
“With that in mind remember that the holidays are coming up, so celebrate those holidays only with members of your immediate household,” Farley advised.
“The increase we saw in spread related to Halloween is something we should take as a warning. You don’t want to see an increase after Thanksgiving and you don’t want to spread COVID to an elderly grandmother or a cousin with a chronic medical condition at your Thanksgiving meal.”
Farley said the city is seeing big increases in the demand for testing, which is delaying when people receiving their results. Last week, an average of more than 7,100 people per day were tested.
Farley said that due to the high number of reported COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia, the health department will no longer report weekly contact tracing statistics. The department’s contact tracing staff is reaching out to those who have tested positive for COVID-19 and encourages people who they can’t reach to notify their own contacts.
Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.