By Michael D’Onofrio
PHILADELPHIA — City officials said they are ready for a potential outbreak of the coronavirus in the city as the first cases in Pennsylvania were confirmed on Friday.
“The situation is changing very rapidly and our response is changing rapidly,” said Health Commissioner Thomas Farley.
The city has not had an identified case of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, but cases were likely at some point, which could result in “social disruption” from the disease and the city’s response, Farley warned during a news conference inside the Mayor’s Reception Room in City Hall alongside more than half a dozen other officials.
“We believe that the risk to Philadelphians is low,” said Mayor Jim Kenney.
City officials were working with local hospitals and healthcare providers to prepare for the virus, and they continued to monitor the spread of the virus with state and regional partners.
“We’re confident that if we get a case, our response will be ready and appropriate,” the mayor said.
The city’s response came hours after Gov. Tom Wolf signed an emergency declaration over the first two cases of coronavirus in Pennsylvania, one each in Delaware and Wayne counties.
The city’s strategy for responding to the coronavirus focuses on containment, Farley said.
The key steps include:
- Rapid identification of cases to prevent the spread of the disease;
- Isolation of the cases once identified;
- Identification of close contacts with people who have the infection; and
- A quarantine of those people for 14 days.
“If we can execute on this strategy, then we can contain this virus,” the health commissioner said.
As officials continue to put in place a response to the virus, Farley said, “there will be bumps in this.” He did not rule out expanding the response in the future, which could include limiting public gatherings and other “social distancing” efforts.
Testing for COVID-19 has become more accessible within the past 24 hours.
The state’s public health laboratory can now test for the disease, as well as two commercial laboratories, LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics.
Farley advised people should not seek unnecessary testing for the disease. Individuals should get tested if they exhibit two of the most common symptoms — fever and a dry cough — and have a history of exposure to the virus, which includes traveling to an affected area or close contact with someone who possibly has the infection.
How the virus will affect SEPTA service remains a “fluid situation,” said Jim Fox, SEPTA’s assistant general manager for system safety.
Fox said the regional transportation service has plans in place to respond to the virus, which include a reduction or elimination of service. In the meantime, SEPTA will increase the cleaning of its facilities and vehicles.
Cleaning efforts at the Philadelphia International Airport will also see an uptick, with crews expected to use a potent disinfectant on high-touch surfaces, said Chellie Cameron, the airport’s chief executive officer.
Councilwoman Cindy Bass said the city and its partners were taking proactive steps to respond to the infection.
“This is the city of Philadelphia: We know how to manage,” she said. “We know how to manage when it comes to large events or crises.”
Cases in the United States grew to at least 250 and 12 people have died from the disease by Friday afternoon, according to news reports.
The virus has been reported in 19 states, including the nearby states of New Jersey, New York, Maryland, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of 10 a.m. Friday, the World Health Organization reported 98,023 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 3,380 deaths worldwide as of Friday.
The virus, first reported from China on Dec. 31, has since spread dozens of countries and all continents except Antarctica. No cure currently exists for coronavirus.
Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties, according to the WHO. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
To prevent infection, the WHO recommends regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs.