City reviews Covid successes, plans for economic recovery

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The city announced an increased capacity for outdoor gatherings and outlined its economic recovery plan as this week marked six months since the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in Philadelphia.

After announcing a daily count of 77 confirmed Covid-19 cases at Thursday’s press conference, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said the city was increasing the number of people allowed to gather outdoors from 50 to 150, effective Monday, September 14.

“We have few if any reports where it’s clear that spread occurred outdoors,” Farley said. “We have many examples of spread of the virus indoors, even in some very small gatherings.”

Indoor gatherings remain limited to 25 people and social distancing of six feet and mask use is still required at outdoor gatherings.

Mayor Jim Kenney discussed components of the city’s plan to come back from the economic damage caused by Covid-19. Identified as respond, restart, recharge and reimagine, the mayor called these the “four phases of work to drive an equitable economic recovery.”

The recovery includes projects already underway as part of the respond and restart phases, aimed at helping vulnerable communities, increasing opportunities for employment and providing reopening guidance and assistance to workers, small businesses and entrepreneurs through relief funds such as the small business relief fund, worker relief fund and the Covid-19 fund.

“We need to regain the momentum that was disrupted by the pandemic by positioning employers for growth,” said Mayor Kenney, shifting to the recharge and reimagine phases. “We must reimagine and reinvent the industries and jobs of the future in ways that increase access and opportunity for all.”

Kenney spotlighted the city’s tourism industry as “one of our hardest hit industries with tens of thousands of jobs lost,” especially in light of what he called a “bittersweet” report made earlier in the day.

“2019 brought record visitation to our city and region and then the pandemic devastated our local hospitality and tourism sector this year,” said Kenney, referring to the record-setting 46 million visitors to the region last year, announced by VISIT PHILADELPHIA and the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau on Thursday.

Indoor dining has resumed with restrictions and while Governor Wolf increased restaurant capacity to 50% for the state of Pennsylvania, to begin on September 21, the city of Philadelphia has maintained its limit of 25% capacity.

“We reviewed this proposal and we are not going to make the change here in Philadelphia on September 21,” Farley said. “However, if the case counts continue to decline and there are no problems elsewhere with the 50% limit, we will consider making the change here sometime in October.”

Amidst the outbreak at Temple University, the city saw increasing cases in the first week of September, especially among young people. The university’s outbreak “appears to be subsiding,” said Farley and by Friday, case counts were down for another consecutive day, with a total of 99 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city. The total number of cases since the pandemic began stands at 34,985 and the total number of confirmed fatalities is 1,770 as of September 11.

To mark the six months since the first confirmed case, Farley reviewed the events since that first case, beginning with the “very difficult time in March and April.”

Testing was severely limited, results were slow to return and people with symptoms had difficulty accessing testing.

“Nonetheless, cases that were diagnosed rose very rapidly over the first four weeks, from 10 people total in the first week to more than 2,600 in the fourth week after the epidemic first hit Philadelphia,” Farley said.

Farley recalled April 24 when the city peaked with 1,881 people hospitalized in the Philadelphia region for COVID-19. In those first four weeks, deaths rose from 12 per week to 250 per week.

“Since those dark times we’ve made huge progress,” he said. Testing is available at 60 sites, and 3,000 people are being tested each day. Results now take an average of 1-2 days to come back. For months, that average was between 7-11 days.

As of Wednesday, 175 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in the entire region, down 90% since April’s peak. The last week of August saw 4 deaths, down 98% from April.

Farley said the city has been able to reopen “gradually, carefully and successfully” and said the next six months will continue to be gradual and require continued safety precautions. He noted that over 90% of people entering Philadelphia stores now wear masks and expressed confidence overall in the direction the city is heading, even as he expects reversals and setbacks as winter arrives.

“But the long-term trajectory is clearly towards returning to normal,” said Farley. “We expect more advances in medicine over the next few months to make the disease more treatable and we def expect more advances in the development of vaccines.”

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