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May 04, 2020

Philly expands criteria for COVID-19 testing as supplies become more available

Also city officials lament number of residents seen not wearing masks

Illness Coronavirus
wearing masks philadelphia Bastiaan Slabbers/for PhillyVoice

A person jogs on the path along Kelly Drive recently. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and Health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley say too many people are outside and not wearing masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Philadelphia will now make COVID-19 testing available to anyone who has apparent symptoms of the infection, regardless of their age or whether they are a health care professional.

Health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley explained Monday that the city now has more of the critical supplies needed to conduct COVID-19 testing. The companies that manufacture these tests have ramped up production and are now better able to meet demand.

"We're seeing an increase in the number of tests that are taking place, and we are having much less trouble purchasing the materials we need to collect tests," Farley said. "The laboratories are telling us that they can handle a much bigger throughput than they could before. All of those numbers are looking good."

Most testing sites in Philadelphia remain by appointment only with the referral of a physician. Priority may still be given to scheduling groups that are at greater risk, such as the elderly and front-line workers, but people of all ages who believe they might have COVID-19 are now encouraged to seek testing.

New categories that also will receive priority include essential workers, such as those in mass transit and grocery stores, and close contacts of known cases or clusters of COVID-19 cases.

"Until we have the ability to test everyone who may have been exposed to COVID-19 coronavirus, we won’t know how safe it will be to re-open Philadelphia. And contact tracing will require that we identify as many people with the infection as possible," Farley said. "Expanding our recommendations on who should be tested is the first step in that process, and I hope that our partners in testing follow these recommendations.”

Philadelphia reported an additional 186 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the city's total to 16,040. While these numbers account for delays in lab reporting, the city also did not have any new deaths to report on Monday. The total stands at 726.

Hospitals in Philadelphia currently are treating 982 COVID-19 patients, while 1,807 people are hospitalized with the virus in hospitals across southeastern Pennsylvania.

Philadelphians must 'get used to' wearing masks, officials say

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney expressed frustration on Monday that many people, particularly younger city residents, are not wearing masks while out in public.

"This all comes down to personal responsibility and maturity," Kenney said. "All the video I saw over the weekend on the TV news, and my experience out with a mask on a bicycle getting some exercise, is that young people for some reason or another refuse to put this mask on. People age 30 or under, jogging or running, picnicking, playing volleyball, just refuse to wear a mask."

The mayor said he's not sure what the city's ultimate approach should be to deal with that. Last month, Kenney has said closing some public parks is not off the table

"Granted, the weather gets better and better, and people go out, but these young folks don't think of their parents or their grandparents — or themselves — when they do this. It's still a conversation we have internally to try to figure out what we do to keep this thing from surging back."

Under Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's emergency orders, residents across the state are required to wear masks when entering retail establishments. Although masks are not required to walk outside, they are strongly encouraged to prevent the spread of the virus.

Farley added that he's also concerned about people who continue to go outside without a mask.

"If they're out there by themselves, they're not going to risk anyone else," Farley said. "But it's just easier to be in the habit of wearing a mask all the time, so if you happen to come across somebody, it's safe. This is something we're all going to have to get used to doing. People want to return to normal activity, but we won't be able to do that safely unless everyone protects each other by wearing masks."

To help address the mental health impact of the coronavirus crisis, Philadelphia and Independence Blue Cross announced a new partnership Monday that aims to provide mental health resources to people across the region. Dubbed MindPHL Together, the name of the campaign is intended to be read phonetically and pronounced "Mindful Together." It coincides with Mental Health Awareness Month in May.

"Amid the heightened uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental well-being is more important than ever," Kenney said. "During this unprecedented time, many of us are experiencing loss, anxiety, stress, or overwhelming sadness. I want to remind Philadelphians to be mindful, know you are not alone, and that it's okay to seek help for these and other symptoms."

The city's department of behavioral health and intellectual disability services also will hold virtual events throughout May focusing on mental health.

"Mental illness won't end when Mental Health Awareness Month ends, or even when COVID-19 is defeated," said department commissioner David T. Jones. "But right now, fighting the stigma and easing treatment access through telehealth is a top priority of the city and our partners."

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