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March 12, 2020

Philly officials ban mass gatherings as coronavirus concerns grow

Sixty-three city schools to close due to staffing issues

Children's Health Coronavirus
Coronavirus Philly Schools Gatherings Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Philadelphia officials are prohibiting all gatherings of more than 1,000 people. But public schools will remain open as the city tries to halt the spread of coronavirus.

Update, 10:25 p.m.

The School District of Philadelphia is closing 63 schools on Friday as a result of school closures in Montgomery County, where all schools will be closed for the next two weeks. At least 15% of the employees at the affected Philadelphia schools live in Montgomery County and staffing shortages are expected limit their ability to function. The list of schools can be found here.

Philadelphia officials are banning mass gatherings in hopes of limiting the spread of coronavirus. But all public schools will remain open.

All gatherings of more than 1,000 people are prohibited for the next 30 days, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley announced Thursday afternoon. City officials also are advising people avoid gatherings of more than 250 people, including sporting events, religious services and meetings. 

RELATED: All Montgomery County schools, entertainment venues ordered to close

Philadelphia currently only has one coronavirus case, but 45 people remain under investigation. 

"We expect and must prepare for additional cases of COVID-19 infection here in the city of Philadelphia," Farley said. "More people will get sick and we have to expect that there will be deaths as a result of this."

The city is not recommending workplaces, shops or restaurants close at this time. Transit services, including the Philadelphia International Airport, will continue.

  • SYMPTOMS: Coronavirus vs. Other respiratory illnesses
      • Fever
      • Cough
      • Shortness of breath
      • Itchy eyes
      • Stuffy nose
      • Sneezing
      • Fever
      • Cough
      • Body aches
      • Fatigue
      • Chills
      • Headache
      • More possibilities: sneezing, stuffy nose and a sore throat
      • Sneezing
      • Stuffy nose
      • Sore throat
      • More possibilities: coughing, slight aches, fatigue, fever
  • Anyone with coronavirus symptoms should stay home and call their doctor. More information can be found on the CDC's website. Philly residents can text "COVIDPHL" to 888777 for updates on the coronavirus.

Schools will remain open because they are "central to the functioning of a society," Farley said. Many Philly students come from single-parent households and their parents cannot afford to take off work. Plus, early information from China, where the coronavirus outbreak originated, indicates children are far less vulnerable to the coronavirus. 

"We have to keep our schools open, if at all possible," Farley said.  

The news came two hours after Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all Montgomery County schools to close for the next two weeks. The county has 13 of Pennsylvania's 22 coronavirus cases

Health officials do not have a specific threshold for closing the School District of Philadelphia, Farley said, noting it depends on a variety of factors. But Superintendent William Hite said individual schools eventually could close. 

"Large numbers of our children depend on our schools for shelter, health, meals, safety and care," Hite said. "Without schools being open, our young people are also at risk. 

"While we're not talking about shutting down the whole system, if we had a circumstance that suggested we need to look at this on a school-by-school basis, we are prepared to do that under the direction of the city's health department."

No district employees or students currently have or are suspected of having coronavirus, Hite said. 

The district will continue providing all schools with hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, Hite said. It also will be adding a rovers to frequently clean all hard and high-touch surfaces in addition to typical cleaning measures. 

Additionally, all school-sponsored trips are suspended through spring break. So is any travel for school district employees, including travel that was already improved. 

All school-based activities, including athletic events, plays, concerts and fundraisers also have been suspended. After-school clubs, activities and athletic practices will continue.

"We understand that postponing activities affects students and their families, but we want to stress that we are taking every preventive measure to make sure that everyone who walks into our buildings remains safe," Hite said. 

Health officials stress that the best way to prevent coronavirus infection is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, clean surfaces and stay home when sick. 

Facial masks offer little protection to healthy individual and should be reserved for medical professionals. 

Coronavirus symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. They do not include a runny nose – a symptom associated with the common cold. 

Anyone who develops symptoms is urged to stay home and call their doctor. Their doctor will determine whether they should be tested for coronavirus. 

Philly health officials encourage residents to visit the city's COVID-19 web page for the latest information. 

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