COVID-19 cases increasing, vaccine lowers severity

by Kate Dolan
Posted 8/10/21

COVID-19 cases are increasing in the city, leading the Philadelphia Department of Public Health to strongly recommend that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks when indoors in …

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COVID-19 cases increasing, vaccine lowers severity

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COVID-19 cases are increasing in the city, leading the Philadelphia Department of Public Health to strongly recommend that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks when indoors in public places.

“The pandemic in Philadelphia has taken a turn that none of us wanted to see,” said Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole at a COVID-19 update press conference on Tuesday.

Bettigole said the health department believed the jump in cases is being caused by the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. While Bettigole described the figure as “being much lower than when things were at their worst,” she expressed cause for concern.

“What concerns me isn’t just the number of people who are testing positive or the number of people in the hospital,” said Dr. Bettigole. “I’m concerned about how quickly those numbers have risen.” 

The number of cases doubled between July 12 and July 19 and doubled again between July 19 and August 1. As of August 5, the city is averaging 152 new cases of COVID-19 per day over the last two weeks. For the first two weeks of July, the average was 28 cases per day.

The rate of positivity among those tested for the virus is 4%, up from 1% reported at the beginning of July.

As of August 5, 92 patients were being treated for COVID-19 in Philadelphia’s hospitals, an increase from 51 patients reported on July 12.

These increases combined with a slight rise in hospitalizations among children, who are still not eligible for the vaccine, and the situation nationwide, led the health department to announce the strong recommendation for Philadelphians to mask up.

Cases are spiking throughout the country, with Florida seeing the largest increases in cases over the past week. On Tuesday, cases around the world surpassed 200 million.

As of right now, the city is not implementing any new restrictions. In addition to the mask recommendation, the health department is pushing for people to avoid crowded indoor areas, to get tested if they feel sick and to get vaccinated.

“I’m going to be completely open here. Being fully vaccinated doesn’t mean you can’t get COVID. You still can, but your chances of getting COVID are much lower, only about 1/8 the chance of someone who is unvaccinated,” said Dr. Bettigole. “And being fully vaccinated means you are much, much less likely – 25 times less likely – to get seriously sick or end up in the hospital if you do get COVID.”

The COVID-19 vaccines are offered for free throughout the city at city-run clinics, partner clinics, health centers and pharmacies. As of August 5, 62.7% of Philadelphia adults have been fully vaccinated, while 76.3 have received at least one dose.

Many of the cases are among younger adults, with Bettigole saying that the highest increases are among adults ages 20-34.

“I think young adults have felt pretty safe through this, and that is not as true as we want it to be,” said Dr. Bettigole.

According to Bettigole, areas with lower vaccination rates are seeing higher rates of infection and these zip codes are also some of the lower income neighborhoods in the city.

“In general, as is true with pretty much every health outcome, the lower vaccination rates track with poverty in our city,” Dr. Bettigole said. “If you think about where our lowest income areas are, in North and West Philly, some areas in the lower northeast, that’s where we have consistently seen lower vaccination rates, higher case rates in general, higher hospitalization and death rates.”

Many of the locations for mass vaccination clinics, including the Esperanza Clinic in Hunting Park and the Martin Luther King Jr. Older Adult Center in North Philadelphia, were chosen to reach those living in the high priority zip codes.

As of August 5, there have been 147,865 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Philadelphians since the beginning of the pandemic and 3,774 have died due to the virus.

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