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March 20, 2020

Philly officials clarify meaning of 'shelter in place' during coronavirus restrictions

City managing director explains the importance of residents' access to core services

Government Coronavirus
Philly shelter place COVID-19 Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia officials do not plan to use the term 'shelter in place' as the city complies with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's coronavirus response order to close non-life-sustaining businesses. Residents are reminded to stay home whenever possible, but continue to utilize core services such as grocery stores and medical care.

Philadelphia officials are working to amend the city's coronavirus response to comply with orders handed down by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who declared on Thursday that all non-life-sustaining businesses must shut down until further notice.

Managing Director Brian Abernathy said Friday that city officials seek answers from the Wolf administration regarding questions about certain exceptions, such as electronics businesses that do cell phone repairs and appliances repair businesses for things like broken refrigerators.

The city is also looking at a plan to shut down construction activity in an orderly way, based on the governor's orders. Hospital construction would be exempt so that the city can accommodate a potential surge in patients.

"Things like that, I think we will be able to work through with the governor," Abernathy said. "Those conversations have been very productive and we're optimistic that we'll find resolution."

Abernathy also addressed concerns about the meaning of broader restrictions and the use of the term "shelter in place," relative to what the city and state have already established.

"I'm not sure how much stronger you can get," Abernathy said. "If you look at what the governor did last night, and we'll amend our order to align with the governor to the best of our ability, it is very similar to what Gov. (Gavin) Newsom did in California and very similar to what folks have been talking about when they say 'shelter in place,' except for essential services."

Abernathy stressed that people need to be able to do what's necessary to survive.

"I would prefer not to use that term, because it's more of a term of art," Abernathy said. "When I tell someone to 'shelter in place,' I don't want them to leave. I don't want them to go outside. In this case, I don't want people to leave unless they need food or medical attention, or some other core service, so I wouldn't use that term. You won't hear Philadelphia use that term. We do want people to stay inside. There's no reason to go out into another enclosed area unless you have to, but we certainly understand people are going to have to eat and go to the doctor."

  • 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.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley also said he would not discourage people from seeking medical care for other reasons if it's necessary.

"If people feel that they need care, they should continue to go and get care," Farley said. "I don't want people to forego necessary care because they're worried about being exposed in that facility. Many people really need that care. It's their judgment."

Philadelphia's total count of COVID-19 cases rose to 67 on Friday, with an additional 23 people diagnosed. Dr. Farley corrected an error in Thursday's count, adjusting the number of infected health care workers from 20 down to 10.

City officials expect that case numbers will continue to increase as testing becomes more widespread and the illness is transmitted in the community.

"We have to assume that most of the increase we see is the increased spread of the virus in Philadelphia," Farley said.

The city also announced updated locations and times for meal distribution to children 18 and under, which will take effect beginning Monday, March 23. To date, Philadelphia has given out more than 47,000 meals in response to the coronavirus pandemic.