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August 25, 2020

Philly falls below 100 COVID-19 cases per day as mask use rises

Health commissioner says city now fares better than parts of Europe

Illness Coronavirus
Philly 100 COVID-19 BASTIAAN SLABBERS/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia's seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases dropped below 100 during the week ending Aug. 22, a new low point since cases peaked in April.

More Philadelphia residents appear to be wearing face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and the latest evidence from the health department shows that the city's mitigation efforts are working.

Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said Tuesday that Philadelphia recorded its lowest daily case counts since the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-April.

Over the week that ended last Saturday, Aug. 22, Philadelphia averaged just 98 new cases per day, with a test positivity rate of 3.4%. During the previous week, those numbers were 125 new cases per day and a 4.1% test positivity rate.

In mid-April, the city's seven-day average stood at about 477 cases per day.

Farley credited the city's continued progress to growing compliance with Philadelphia's mask mandate and other mitigation efforts across the state and country.

In Pennsylvania as a whole, case counts have been falling over the past four weeks.

"That's around the time that Governor Wolf signed his targeted mitigation order, which closed bars and limited indoor and outdoor gatherings," Farley said. "I think those two are connected."

For the past few months, Philadelphia's health department has been tracking mask compliance by monitoring outdoor SEPTA stations and retail establishments. The SEPTA data has been compromised in recent weeks by the authority's IT problems — an apparent malware attack — but the health department has continued to observe residents exiting retail establishments.

Over the last week, face mask use rose to 88%, an increase from 77% the previous week and as low as 58% during the week surrounding the Fourth of July, when SEPTA data was still included.

"It's clearly a trend in the right direction," Farley said. "We're not quite up at 90%, but we want to be at 90%."

As Philadelphia prepares to reopen limited indoor dining on Sept. 8, Farley said the city's progress has been significant, but should not be taken for granted.

"This improvement in the epidemic isn't inevitable," Farley said. "In fact, in Europe right now, case rates are rising. Suprisingly, Philadelphia now has lower rates of infection than Spain or France. The lesson is that we still need to follow the safety guidelines, especially masks. If we don't follow the safety guidelines, this virus could clearly come back."

Philadelphia reported 85 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the citywide total to 33,139. No new fatalities were reported. The death toll stands at 1,736, including 867 nursing home residents.

Access Centers available for Philly students

As the School District of Philadelphia prepares to start the academic year remotely, the city is now enrolling vulnerable students who are eligible to report to 32 Access Centers for digital learning.

"These are not drop-in sites. Prior registration is required and site capacity is limited to adhere to health and safety guidelines," the city said in a statement. "Priority will be given to children of caregivers who need to work outside the home and cannot provide or afford other childcare solutions."

Families who wish to register for the Access Centers can learn about eligibility, view a site map, and fill out an online interest form. Those who need help filling out the form can call (215) 709-5366.

Access Centers will open to registered students on Sept. 8.

Families of K-12 students without broadband internet access also can now reach out to United Way’s 211 hotline for general information on the city's PHLConnectED program, a collaborative effort to connect low-income K-12 student households with internet and devices for digital learning.

“We’re thrilled to launch the PHLConnectED hotline and get our students ready for digital learning,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “We know that many families need internet access, so we’re eager to get started connecting them as quickly as possible. PHLConnectED is a critical step in bridging the digital divide in Philadelphia.”

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