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March 18, 2020

Philly region ramps up COVID-19 testing, plans drive-thru site near stadium complex

City officials also address concerns about revisions to police department's coronavirus arrest policies

Illness Coronavirus
Farley Coronavirus March 18 Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia officials talked about the drive-thru coronavirus testing site being established at the South Philly stadium complex and answered questions about Philly's hospital capacity and its ability to handle the expected influx of COVID-19 cases during the daily briefing on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

The Philadelphia metro area continues to expand coronavirus testing capacity as new sites come online and supplies of kits become more widely available, city health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said during Wednesday's briefing.

Philadelphia's total count of COVID-19 cases increased to 34 on Wednesday, after 16 new positive results were recorded. Of those cases, five patients are hospitalized. In terms the ages of city's coronavirus patients, 19 are between the 20-39; 10 are 40-59; and five are more than than 60 years old.

The daily increases are in line with the health department's expectations for the spread of the virus.

On Tuesday, approximately 177 test results were processed in Philadelphia, about a tenfold increase in daily capacity since the weekend, Farley said. About 700 samples were collected Tuesday in the greater Philadelphia area at new testing sites opened by Penn Medicine, Temple Health, Jefferson Health, CHOP and Main Line Health.

Officials confirmed that the city is working with state and federal partners, including Pennsylvania's Task Force 1, to set up a drive-thru testing site at the stadium complex in South Philadelphia. Equipment was brought to the area around Citizens Bank Park on Sunday. 

"We now need to identify the staff and the organizational structure, and have the staff trained and all the procedures put in place so that it can open," Farley said. "As far as how many patients we can handle, that's still to be seen, in part because we have to deal with this question of how many test kits are available, what the criteria (for testing) are, and what the demand is given those criteria." 

Those who seek testing are reminded that priority is given to those who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 — specifically a fever and dry cough — in order to reserve supplies for those who are at moderately high risk or above. There have been shortages of viral transport media kids, which include the swabs used to collect and process samples, Farley said. 

  • SYMPTOMS: Coronavirus vs. Other respiratory illnesses
      • Fever, cough, shortness of breath
      • Itchy eyes, stuffy nose, sneezing
      • Fever, cough, body aches, fatigue, chills, headache and possibly sneezing, stuffy nose and a sore throat
      • Sneezing, stuffy nose, sore throat and possibly 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, and anyone in Greater Philadelphia can call the coronavirus hotline at 800-722-7112.

"We don't want people to be tested if they don't need to be tested or don't have symptoms compatible with this illness," Philadelphia's health commissioner said. 

About Philadelphia's hospital capacity, Farley stated the city has approximately 6,200 licensed acute care inpatient beds, including adult and children's hospitals. That works out to about four beds per 1,000 population. By comparison, the U.S. as a whole has about 2.5 beds per 1,000 population.

Typically, beds are 70% percent occupied, but hospitals have made adjustments to elective surgeries in order to prepare for an influx of COVID-19 cases.

"There's no question that at the rate this is spreading, and with our experience elsewhere, we know our health care systems are going to come under strain," Farley said. "It is entirely possible that the health care system will be overwhelmed if this virus spreads unchecked. That's the reason that we are taking these social distancing measures now. The system will be under strain even if we are successful." 

Philadelphia Managing Director Brian Abernathy addressed concerns about the police department's adjustments to arrest policies, saying they are consistent with how low-level arrests are handled throughout the state. Arrests will be made on the street based on probable cause. Individuals will be released and an affidavit will be submitted to the district attorney for warrants to be issued at a later date.

"These changes are not an invitation to lawlessness," Abernathy said. "Any criminal who believes there will be no consequences for criminal behavior will be sadly mistaken."

Abernathy added the goal of the department's policy is to dedicate resources to addressing violent crime and to keep city residents safe. 

Officials with the Philadelphia Water Department and Philadelphia Gas Works confirmed that service will not be shut off to customers who fall behind on payments, at least through May 15.

Abernathy said most businesses have complied with the city's order to close if they are non-essential, though police have been sent to Philadelphia Mills mall to ensure compliance. The mall had remained open despite the city's order.

Philly continues to work on a plan to provide relief for workers who have been hard hit by the closure of businesses, with updates expected in the coming days.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said the city is moving forward with its response and he remains confident in his leadership to keep city residents safe.

"I think what we're doing is going in the right direction," Kenney said. "We're taking every credible measure to flatten the curve."

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