By Michael D’Onofrio
PHILADELPHIA — Mayor Jim Kenney did not rule out the possibility that residents could be ordered to “shelter-in-place” as the coronavirus cases rose again on Thursday.
“We may get there,” Kenney said about the potential of such an order that would significantly tighten restrictions on movement throughout the city.
City Manager Brian Abernathy added that any order mandating for most residents to remain indoors would be complicated by the city’s high poverty rate.
“I do know we are the poorest big city in the country and we still have to figure out to make sure people get fed, get access to their medicine, and have access to healthcare,” he said.
“To tell folks to get inside and lock their doors is going to be really challenging, if not impossible.”
Ten new coronavirus (COVID-19) cases were reported on Thursday, bringing the city’s total to 44 — eight serious enough to cause hospitalization.
Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the coronavirus was “spreading very rapidly” through the city.
Local hospitals also have seen an “unusual” increase in the number of patients at emergency departments with symptoms of COVID-19, he said, which probably represents people with the infection.
“This is about to get real,” Farley warned.
“We expect that many people in Philadelphia will get this infection,” adding, “Right now, assume everyone you come in contact with either already has the illness or may be incubating the illness.”
Twenty of the 44 confirmed cases of COVID-19 involved healthcare workers from facilities around the city. Not all of them were exposed at work, with some possibly being exposed at conferences they attended.
“This does drive home that the people at greatest risk for an infection like this are healthcare workers,” Farley said.
Of the 44 total COVID-19 cases, 23 were aged 20-39, 13 were aged 40 to 59, and 6 were aged 60 and higher, Farley said.
Parks, recreation centers to close
The city will close all playgrounds, athletic courts, environmental education centers, ice rinks and other recreation facilities due to the growing pandemic.
The list of closures includes the Carousel House Recreation Center, the CASE building and One Parkway Building.
But parks, fields and trails will remain open.
The closures will last through at least March 27. Permitted events scheduled in parks and recreation areas are canceled, too.
The city’s food distribution effort at 50 recreation centers and six adult centers will continue on Friday. City officials will provide updates on where residents can get free meals next week on Friday.
Testing sites, shortages
Fourteen testing sites for COVID-19 are now operational in Philadelphia, Farley said. That figure is expected to rise to 19 next week.
Those testing sites collected samples from approximately 1,100 people on Wednesday, up from about 700 the previous day.
A drive-thru rapid-testing site at the stadium complex in South Philadelphia is expected to open on Friday afternoon, Farley said, but he added, “I cannot guarantee that.” City, state, and federal agencies are collaborating on the site.
The South Philadelphia testing site will prioritize the testing of healthcare workers with symptoms, then those aged 50 and above who have symptoms, Farley said.
Shortages of testing kit materials continue to hamper testing efforts and prevent some from getting tested.
“If you’re young and healthy, you don’t need a test right now,” Farley said. “We want to save those test kits for others who need it more.”
All sites will require a referral from a physician and criteria individuals must meet to be tested. Individuals should contact their primary care physician to seek testing if they are experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19 (a dry cough, fever, fatigue).
Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.