By Kate Dolan
Several updates to Philadelphia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic were announced this week, including the opening of Access Centers to supervise children on digital learning days and gradual opening plans for indoor dining.
Opening on September 8, access centers operated by the city will provide “internet access and a safe environment” for eligible families of K-6 students at Philadelphia Parks and Recreation centers, libraries and Philadelphia Housing Authority sites around the city. The initial phase will serve 800 students in 31 sites and will be available to families who do not have other options. For more information about locations, Philadelphia Department of Health guidelines and enrollment eligibility, please visit phil.gov/accesscenters.
Indoor dining can resume in the city’s restaurants on September 8, the day after Labor Day.
“This will come with a number of restrictions that either match or exceed the restrictions now in place for indoor dining in the rest of the state,” said Mayor Jim Kenney.
Restrictions include running at no more than 25% capacity, a limit of four patrons per table and servers will be wearing masks and face shields as "the servers are the people at the greatest risk,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. “They’re the ones who are going to be coming in proximity with many people over the course of a day who won’t be wearing masks.”
Alcoholic drinks will be available only with meals and there will be no bar service. Mayor Kenney called the economic impact of restaurants’ closures and limited operations tremendous and expressed hope that these changes “mark a turning point in our recovery.” He cautioned that a reversal of the decision could come if restrictions are not followed.
“I would urge restaurant owners, employees, patrons — let’s not push the envelope, but follow the rules as we’ve been following the rules for quite some time now,” said Kenney.
Bowling alleys and arcades can open immediately, following restrictions. Indoor theaters can open on September 8th to 50% capacity, with a maximum 25 people.
The reopening changes come as the city is making progress in meeting targets like falling daily cases rates and positivity rates. Over the past four weeks, beginning July 19th, the positivity rate of test results from over 2,000 a day has been dropping each week to read as follows per week: 5.4%, 4.8%, 4.1%, 4%. The city’s target of 4% was met last week.
At Thursday’s COVID-19 update press conference, Dr. Farley announced that case counts in Philadelphia are decreasing, reporting 105 new confirmed cases, and a 3 % positivity rate of the 3,400 results received. In Pennsylvania, daily case counts are falling and in the United States as a whole, Dr. Farley said cases were “still high but are continuing to fall.”
As of the press conference on August 20, total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Philadelphia were 32,674 and there are 1,735 deaths from the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.
Also announced were changes to the city’s free food distribution program and Philabundance and Share Food Program. Monday, August 24 will be the last Monday distribution and Thursday-only distributions begin on August 27. Between 10 a.m. and noon, Philadelphia residents can pick up one box of food per household. Food sites can be found at phil.gov/food.