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April 08, 2020

In hopeful sign, Philly reports modest dip in new cases of COVID-19

Health commissioner optimistic that social distancing measures may be slowing spread of coronavirus

Illness Coronavirus
Philly COVID-19 Slowing Cases Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley noted a decline in the daily increase of COVID-19 cases in the city. That trend will be the most important to watch in the days and weeks ahead as social distancing aims to slow the coronavirus pandemic.

For one of the first times since Philadelphia has had broader coronavirus testing available to the public, the number of new cases of COVID-19 decreased by a modest amount on Wednesday, health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said.

The city logged 505 additional presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, down from the mid-500's that had been reported in recent days. On Monday, for example, the city reported 539 cases. On Tuesday, the city reported 544 new cases. In total, the city has 4,777 confirmed cases as of Wednesday.

"It looks like we are stabilizing," Farley said. "The cumulative numbers look like they are going to continue to grow, but the daily numbers, if we're successful, will start to fall."

Farley said it's important not to assume that the slower growth will necessarily continue. Lapses in the city's social distancing measures could quickly reverse gains. 

"This virus may find new populations, and we may see rises and falls before we ultimately see a sustained fall."

The city reported 13 new coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, bringing the city's total to 78. An increase in the number of deaths has been expected, as fatalities lag behind new reported cases. Among those who have died, 32 were nursing home residents and 53 were over the age of 70.

Working with limited available data, Farley was able to provide a breakdown of some racial data on COVID-19 deaths.

Among the 78 people who have died, 22 (28%) were white, 30 (38%) were black, one was another race and 25 did not have racial information available.

"Like many other health problems, we may see that this virus affects people who have other disadvantages more," Farley said. "They may be more likely to get the infection, and they may be more likely to have severe disease if they do get the infection. We at the city, and the health systems across the city, are going to continue to work to be especially focused on reducing spread in the populations where it's spreading more."

Farley said he was aware of comments from White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx that Philadelphia could potentially become a hotspot for COVID-19. The city remains in regular contact with the CDC, but has not yet communicated with the White House about its concerns.

"All of the high-density cities in the Northeast are getting hit pretty hard by this," Farley said. "But we've put in place a lot of actions to address it, including our social distancing measures, that look like they're showing some effect."

At the moment, Philadelphia's hospitals continue to be handling the volume of cases well, with additional availability for those who need it. About 616 patients were receiving care for COVID-19 in Philadelphia hospitals as of Wednesday, while 1,062 people have been hospitalized in the region.

City reaches agreement on contract extension with municipal workers union

Mayor Jim Kenney announced Wednesday that the City has come to an agreement on a one-year contract extension with District Council 47, one of four unions representing municipal workers. Last week, the city reached a contract extension with the police union.

The extension with DC47 includes a 2% increase in each step of each pay range in the District 47 pay plan. It also includes one-time bonuses of either $450 or $700, depending on whether the employee is working onsite during the pandemic for the majority of their time.

"This extension will allow the City and the union to get through the turbulence of this pandemic, and by next year we’ll all have a better idea of what makes sense for a longer-term deal," Kenney said. "I look forward to ratification by the membership.”

Contracts for the city's two other municipal workers unions, District Council 33 and Local 22, expire at the end of June. Negotiations with both unions remain ongoing.

The city also announced some programming changes over the next week due to the religious holidays.

All City of Philadelphia offices and district health centers will be closed and city services curtailed on Friday, April 10, for Good Friday. 

Residents who have trash collection on Friday should set out their trash on Friday evening after 5 p.m. for collection on Saturday. Recycling collections will resume next week and will continue on an every-other-week schedule until further notice, as part of the curtailed schedule that was previously announced.

The School District’s 49 student meal distribution sites will be closed on Monday, April 13. Meals that would have been distributed will be available instead on Tuesday, April 14, from 9 a.m. to noon. The 40 City-supported food sites will remain open on Monday, April 13.

The usual Monday and Thursday distribution schedule will resume on Thursday, April 16.

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