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August 04, 2020

Philly sees week of improvement as COVID-19 cases decline

Fatalities have dropped 97% since peak in mid-April, health commissioner says

Illness Coronavirus
Philly COVID Aug HUGHE DILLON/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia has had a high rate of compliance with the city's face mask mandate, helping to slow the spread of COVID-19 even as a second wave of the virus arrived in recent weeks.

After several weeks of rising COVID-19 infections in Philadelphia, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley reported Tuesday that numbers are showing signs of improvement.

Over the week that ended last Saturday, the city averaged 123 new cases per day, down from an average of 166 cases per day the week before and 141 cases per day two weeks ago.

The new cases reported in Philadelphia continue to be seen predominantly in younger people — 35% under the age of 30 and and 52% under 40 years old.

In a hopeful development, the percentage of tests that came back positive dropped to 4.7% over the past week, the lowest weekly positivity rate the city has recorded to date. Overall, that number has usually fluctuated between 5-6%.

"I don't know if that's a long term trend or something temporary, but any decrease is good news."

Philadelphia reported 106 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the citywide total to 30,771 since the start of the pandemic. Three additional fatalities raised the city's death toll to 1,695, including 860 nursing home residents.

Deaths attributed to COVID-19 have declined by as much as 97% from the Philadelphia's peak in mid-April, when the city was averaging about 250 fatalities per week. Over the past week that ended on Saturday, the city recorded seven deaths.

Despite the positive news, the health commissioner hesitated Tuesday to make predictions about the city's policies in the coming weeks, including ongoing questions about when Philadelphia will permit indoor dining at restaurants. Last week, officials said a decision will be made by Aug. 21.

There also has been no determination yet on whether the Eagles will be able to play in front of fans at Lincoln Financial Field next month. 

"It's really hard to say where the virus is going to go," Farley said Tuesday. "I'm certainly pleased to see the numbers go down, but I can't say whether they're going to continue to go down, and I certainly can't say where we'll be at on September 1."

Philadelphia's downward coronavirus trend follows similar modest declines in the surrounding suburbs, in Pennsylvania at large and across the United States over the past week, Farley said.

"This could be temporary — and the case counts are still high — but the news is better than where we were a week ago," Farley said. "The reason for that fall is really unclear at this point. I can only say that maybe people are finally coming around to accept the idea that they need to wear masks, and mask use has gotten high enough that it's really making a difference. I hope that's the case." 

As the city and region dealt with the havoc of Tropical Storm Isaias on Tuesday, Mayor Jim Kenney addressed ongoing complaints about delayed trash and recycling collection.

The city has added 120 temporary employees to help cover staffing shortages, but the mayor also urged Philadelphia residents to take tangible steps to reduce the amount of waste they generate. A new "Curb Your Waste" campaign promotes 10 ways residents can help the city deal with an approximate 25% increase in residential trash accumulation during the pandemic.

"Remember to thank our sanitation workers for their hard work and service they provide during these challenging times," Kenney said. "A thank you goes a long way to show your support and appreciation. It's a hard job, in hard conditions, dealing with lots of stuff that we wouldn't want to deal with on a regular basis."

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