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March 17, 2020

SEPTA expects to limit subway, bus service amid Philly's coronavirus response

Philadelphia officials provide daily update on COVID-19, with new testing sites

Public Transportation SEPTA
Kenney Covid-19 SEPTA Philadelphia Department of Public Health/Facebook

During Philadelphia's daily coronavirus briefing on March 17, 2020, a SEPTA official said the city will likely reduce bus and subway service in the near future. Additional COVID-19 testing sites have also become operational through various health care systems in and around the city, officials said.

SEPTA may move to reduce subway, bus and trolley service in Philadelphia in the coming week as the city continues to monitor the spread of the coronavirus, officials said Tuesday during a daily briefing on COVID-19.

LATEST: SEPTA reduces transit services, all lines to operate on Saturday schedule because of COVID-19

On Monday, SEPTA announced it would reduce Regional Rail service by 25% in response to ridership losses and staffing shortages across the whole system.

"We do expect that as conditions change, we would implement further service reductions across the board to include city bus and subway service," said Scott Sauer, SEPTA's assistant general manager of operations. "Our service planning and operations teams are working towards that end. We expect to have something perhaps by the end of the week."

The transit agency had already cut Regional Rail service down from 769 to 581 trains, providing an opportunity for staff to practice social distancing. The system has not yet experienced any major disruptions of service. 

"We expect that there would be some disruptions of service from time to time," Sauer said. "We have activated our Emergency Operations Center to monitor service on a daily basis." 

Philadelphia health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley updated the COVID-19 case count to 18 on Tuesday, doubling the total on Monday. Only one of the original coronavirus patients had been hospitalized at this time, Farley said. The others have been quarantined.

"At least some of them did not travel internationally," Farley said. "We do know that this virus is circulating in the community."

Farley declined to provide more detailed information about the new cases, citing an effort to maintain confidentiality and emphasize that the virus is not restricted to a few neighborhoods.

  • SYMPTOMS: Coronavirus vs. Other respiratory illnesses
      • Fever, cough, shortness of breath
      • Itchy eyes, stuffy nose, sneezing
      • Fever, cough, body aches, fatigue, chills, headache and possibly sneezing, stuffy nose and a sore throat
      • Sneezing, stuffy nose, sore throat and possibly coughing, slight aches, fatigue, fever
  • Anyone with coronavirus symptoms should stay home and call their doctor. More information can be found on the CDC's website. Philly residents can text "COVIDPHL" to 888777 for updates on the coronavirus, and anyone in Greater Philadelphia can call the coronavirus hotline at 800-722-7112.

"It's not going to stay in one neighborhood," Farley said. "Everyone should assume it's everywhere."

Philadelphia continued a gradual increase in testing capacity on Tuesday, processing 90 test results on Tuesday morning. Most are expected to be negative, but the city is working to identify positive cases.

Those with the two primary symptoms of COVID-19 — fever and a dry cough — are those who should seek testing. Those without any symptoms are not encouraged to be tested at this time.

On Monday, the University of Pennsylvania announced two drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites, one in West Philadelphia and another in Radnor, Delaware County, for patients with direct referrals from a physician.

Commissioner Farley said four additional testing sites have opened and will operate in the same manner as Penn's, testing people for the coronavirus who have referrals from health care providers.

Temple University has one site on its main campus; Jefferson has two sites, one in Center City and one in Abington; Children's Hospital of Philadelphia has a site near its West Philadelphia campus.

"Cumulatively these sites tested approximately 200 people (on Monday)," Farley said. "Other providers are opening test sites as well and there's more to come."

Those who have symptoms and wish to be tested at any of these sites are advised to contact their physician for a referral to the site with which they are affiliated, when applicable. A patient of a Jefferson doctor, for example, should inquire about testing at a Jefferson site. This is intended to speed up the testing registration process.

All testing will be done at no cost to the patient, Farley said.

Philadelphia Managing Director Brian Abernathy expressed understanding of the concerns that have arisen over the city's business restrictions for non-essential services. Business owners with questions are encouraged to email the city at

"We understand that this is going to take some time to get used to," Abernathy said. "We're encouraging folks to shut down on their own. I believe in Philadelphians, and I believe people are going to shut down voluntarily."

Residents or employees who believe a business is in violation of these restrictions should contact 311. Restaurants may operate under the order solely to provide food through online, delivery, pickup, or walk-in ordering. Dine-in service is strictly prohibited. 

Those who have been put out of work as a result of the crisis are urged to apply for state unemployment benefits.

"We're going to do everything we can, within our means," Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said. "But this is a national issues and it's going to have to be addressed similar to World War II or to a depression. They're going to have to step up, both the federal and the state governments. And we will also, but we cannot tow this entire burden."

Among other city agencies, the Philadelphia Parking Authority said it will place a special emphasis on enforcing public safety, including double parking, loading zones, entrances and crosswalks. For the time being, meters, kiosks and residential time limits will not be enforced.

Mayor Kenney added that it's impossible to project at this point what kind of economic hit and revenue impact the coronavirus crisis will have on the city of Philadelphia.

"How long is it going to last?" Kenney said. "We've done two-week chunks. It could be four weeks, could be eight weeks. It could be longer. Hopefully not. We're monitoring the situation and we're trying to develop models, but we don't have a specific answer for you at this point. It's not good."