Philly announces its first COVID-19 case, Pa. total now stands at 12

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley and Managing Director Brian Abernathy urge Philadelphians to avoid large public gathers at a press conference announcing the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the city. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley and Managing Director Brian Abernathy urge Philadelphians to avoid large public gathers at a press conference announcing the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the city. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Updated 7:43 p.m.

At a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, joined by Managing Director Brian Abernathy, Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel and other government officials, announced details about the city’s first confirmed COVID-19 novel coronavirus case.

The adult patient is a Philadelphia resident who is receiving treatment at home and has exposed other people, Farley said.

Additional exposed individuals are being contacted and will be quarantined in an effort to contain the virus and the pneumonia illness it causes.

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“The virus is circulating now. The pandemic has now arrived in the city of Philadelphia,” Farley said.

Farley said it’s possible that some known exposed individuals have not yet been contacted by the city, and that some exposed individuals are unknown. Farley added that based on data from other countries, the coronavirus has most often been exposed through household contact.

The city will be using its Ready Philadelphia system to provide real-time updates on city response to the virus. People may text COVIDPHL to 888777 to receive those updates.

Philadelphia officials also delivered recommendations for city residents to contain the spread of the virus.

“As of today we are recommending that people in Philadelphia not attend public gatherings that would typically have more than 5,000 people at it,” Farley said, like sporting events and the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day parade.

While the city is not canceling the parade, Abernathy said he contacted parade organizers and urged them to encourage would-be attendees to watch the 250th annual parade on television.

Philadelphia officials are not yet recommending the closure of schools, universities or workplaces.

Still, said Abernathy, “We are encouraging private employers to relax their sick leave policies.”

This brings the total number of presumed positive cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania to 12. The latest case outside of Philadelphia is a resident of Montgomery County who is hospitalized, bringing the total number of cases in the county to eight. There is one case in Delaware County, one in Monroe County and one in Wayne County.

There are three new positive cases in Montgomery County as of Tuesday, said Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.

One is an 18-year-old woman in Lower Gwynedd who lives in the same household as another person who was previously identified as positive. She goes to Germantown Academy and is in isolation at home.

The second is a 67-year-old woman from Upper Merion, who is in isolation at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. For both of those cases, Arkoosh said county officials have completed contact tracing — figuring out all the people and places those patients have been in touch with.

The third new case is a 70-year-old woman from Cheltenham Township who is in a hospital in Philadelphia. Arkoosh said that, as of the briefing on Tuesday afternoon, officials have not finished contact tracing and do not know how this person became infected. She stressed that could change, but if they cannot figure out how this person got the virus, it would be Montgomery County’s first instance of community spread, meaning that it cannot be traced back to someone who went to a place where the virus is active.

“That would imply that the virus is out in the community and is spreading on its own, so to speak,” she said.

Arkoosh added that as of Tuesday morning, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has the following guidelines for how long a presumed positive person has to be in isolation: they have to go for 72 hours fever free without taking any medicine to lower a fever, test negative once, and test negative again after at least 24 hours. Only then can a positive case be cleared.

The patient in Monroe County has been released from the hospital and is in isolation at home, according to Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health Rachel Levine at a press conference.

Patients who test positive locally are referred to as “presumptive” until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm the test results.

  • Number of presumptive cases in Pennsylvania: 12
  • Number of presumptive cases in New Jersey: 15, including one death
  • Number of presumptive cases in Delaware: 0

A student of the Upper School at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington also tested positive for the new coronavirus, and is in isolation at home, according to an email from Head of School Rich Schellhas.

Three other students from the Germantown Academy Upper School visited that student’s house last week, and are in self-quarantine for at least two weeks, as instructed by the Montgomery County Department of Health. A family member of that student also tested positive for COVID-19. (People who are sick will be in isolation, either at home or at a hospital. Quarantine refers to people who may not be sick, but are kept separate because they have been, or may have been exposed to someone who is sick. WHYY’s Sabrina Emms has more in this guide to coronavirus related terms.)

Germantown Academy is closed through March 17 and will launch an online education program called Virtual GA on Thursday, continue to disinfect school buildings, and cancel all campus events through spring break.

West Chester University is among the schools moving classes online nationally. Classes will be canceled for the next two weeks, as faculty take the next that time to prepare courses and advising to shift online, according to a release from West Chester University President Christopher Fiorentino. Classes will resume by alternate means on March 30.

Keeping with the CDC’s guidance on social distancing, West Chester’s on-campus housing will close and all large events on campus are canceled.

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Tuesday morning, the University of Pennsylvania announced that all university-related travel, domestic or international, is prohibited at least until April 17, unless approved by the provost. The university recommends that all events or meetings of 100 people or more be canceled or postponed. They are preparing to move classes online. Spring break ends on March 15.

Darden, the parent company of Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, the Capital Grille and other restaurants, announced that as of March 9, its more than 180,000 hourly workers will have paid permanent sick leave. They will get one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. A communications director stressed that this has been planned for a while and is not in response to the coronavirus situation, but the company did “accelerate rolling it out” because of what’s going on.

This developing story will be updated.

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