May 01, 2020
Philadelphia's public swimming pools typically begin opening in early June, providing many residents a much-needed place to beat the heat.
But they will have to find an alternative way to cool off this summer.
Mayor Jim Kenney confirmed Friday that the public pools will remain closed as the city manages the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Though the crisis has placed the city in a financial bind, officials said public health concerns are the driving factor.
"We provided directions to Parks and Recreation to stop planning for pool opening because of health reasons," City Managing Director Brian Abernathy said. "Pools will not reopen this summer even if there's fundraising."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said there is no evidence that the coronavirus can be spread through water in pools. Its guidance on swimming facilities urges responsible planning and cleaning procedures among owners and operators of pools.
But the city's pools draw large crowds – which health officials have stressed avoiding until the COVID-19 crisis passes. Under Gov. Tom Wolf's reopening plan, gatherings of 25-plus people are prohibited until the final phase.
Philadelphia faces a budget deficit of approximately $649 million as a result of the crisis, which will force program cuts and pending layoffs across city government.
Under Kenney's new budget proposal, about $50 million in new revenue will be raised through proposed tax increases. But the majority of the shortfall — about $370.4 million — will be recouped through reduced staffing and programming, including reductions to Parks and Recreation. The remaining portion of the deficit will be addressed by lowering the city's fund balance by approximately $227.8 million.
With an uncertain path ahead for reopening various sectors of the Philadelphia economy, the 2020 pool closures mark a significant setback to families who have traditionally planned summer activities around pool access.
Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley reported 669 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the city's total to 15,137. Another 31 fatalities raised the city's COVID-19 death toll to 638.
The higher numbers of the past few days are largely related to ongoing lags in lab reporting of test results, but Farley said Philadelphia also is beginning to test more people.
"At one time, we were maybe 1,200, 1,400 tests per day," Farley said. "Now we're maybe 1,600. There was one day we had over 2,000 tests. Clearly, we are seeing an increase in that, but we reported 3,000 tests today, so the large majority of that increase is just reporting the backlog. Some of it is the overall increase."
Farley previously has said that the city plans to increase testing in stages.
"I would love to test at least 5,000 per day, maybe 10,000 per day to feel like we're getting as many people as possible with this infection identified, so we can do the contact tracing and the rest of the work that follows with that," Farley said late last month.
With supplies still limited, the city has kept its focus on testing those who are most vulnerable and at the highest risk of exposure, including the elderly and health care workers.
As warm weather enters the region, it remains imperative to continue practicing social distancing, Farley said Friday.
"The weather's looking nice. It's going to be more and more tempting for people to be outside," Farley said. "I'm looking at those numbers of cases that we see every day. Everybody wants those numbers to go down to a low number so that we can safely reopen our society and reopen our economy. The fastest way for those numbers to go down quickly is if people follow our social distancing recommendations."