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September 15, 2020

Philly COVID-19 cases fall to lowest point since start of pandemic

New study on mask use provides detailed demographic findings

Illness Coronavirus
Philly Low COVID-19 Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia's COVID-19 case counts have fallen significantly in September, continuing a downward trend that now has the city back to the early levels of new cases reported in March.

More than six months into the coronavirus pandemic, Philadelphia's progress now has the city back to the point it was at when COVID-19 cases first started surfacing, officials said Tuesday.

Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley provided an encouraging snapshot of how far Philadelphia has come, noting that number of new coronavirus infections in the past week have fallen considerably.

Over the week ending on Sept. 12, Philadelphia averaged just 67 cases per day and test positivity rate of 2.6%.

"There are delays in case reporting, and those numbers are likely to increase in the next few days, but still, the average daily case count, and the percent positive is the lowest we've had since the first week of the epidemic back in March. That's really good news, a sign of real good progress, and it's a credit to all of the things the people in the city of Philadelphia have been doing to try to prevent the spread of this infection."

Philadelphia reported 84 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the citywide total to 35,340 since the start of the pandemic. One new fatality was reported, increasing city's death toll to 1,771, including 877 fatalities among nursing home residents.

About one-quarter of the new cases reported this week were college-aged people, a trend that's been mirrored across the United States.

"They're the biggest source of increases in case counts across the nation," Farley said.

During Tuesday's COVID-19 briefing, Farley clarified that the ruling by a federal judge against Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's pandemic restrictions does not apply to the orders put in place in Philadelphia. The city's restrictions are not impacted by the federal ruling, which Gov. Wolf plans to appeal.

"That includes our restrictions on restaurants, our limits on activities in other settings and our limits on gatherings," Farley said. "Nothing is going to change in the city of Philadelphia as a result of that court ruling."

Philadelphia did, on Monday, increase its outdoor gathering limit from 50 to 150 people, citing all of the improvements in recent weeks. Masks and social distancing are still necessary.

The city's observations about mask use in Philadelphia continue to show a high level of compliance.

The health department's data show that in the past week, 85% of city residents leaving retail stores wore face masks. Those numbers have fluctuated as high as 96%, but they remain strong. Among people who were outdoors in commercial areas, about 69% of people were observed wearing masks in the last week.

Those percentages include any mask use at all, even if people are wearing them incorrectly, Farley said.

An independent research group recently completed its own outdoor observations in Philadelphia during the month of August, releasing its findings on Tuesday.

The researchers observed about 4,600 people on commercial streets, neighborhood parks and playgrounds in Philadelphia to paint a more complete picture of mask use.

• Commercial streets: 72% of Philadelphians wore face masks, but only 52% wore them correctly, covering both the mouth and nose.

• Parks: 56% of park visitors wore face masks

• Playgrounds: 36% of people wore face masks.

The researchers also looked at demographic factors, including age, race, locations and sex. Younger people were less likely to wear masks than older people, and men (54%) were less likely to wear masks than women (67%).

By race, white residents wore masks 61% of the time, Black residents wore masks 56% of the time and 48% of Hispanics wore masks.

A full breakdown of the mask use statistics in the city is available in the study's published findings.

"Most Philadelphians are doing the right thing most of the time, but we all need to wear masks more regularly and we need to wear masks more consistently, even when we're outdoors near others," Farley said.

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