As COVID limits come back, Philly residents accept the disappointing new reality

The Rittenhouse Farmers' Market has been open during the pandemic. (Aaron Moselle/WHYY)

The Rittenhouse Farmers' Market has been open during the pandemic. (Aaron Moselle/WHYY)

The official start of the holiday season is just around the corner, but the gift we all want — an end to pandemic life — is likely several months away.

Despite promising news this week from pharmaceutical companies developing coronavirus vaccines, positive COVID-19 cases are surging throughout the country and could continue to climb as colder weather pushes people indoors.

In Philadelphia, the Health Department is routinely reporting hundreds of new cases a day, prompting the city to tighten its restrictions on social gatherings and shut down indoor dining, movie theaters and museums until at least New Years.

For residents of Pennsylvania’s biggest city, it’s a disappointing and frustrating reality, especially during a time of year typically filled with visits from extended family and out-of-town friends.

Sara Mackell’s Thanksgiving table is usually jammed with more than 40 people. This year, she’ll only be eating with her parents and fiance.

“It’s a big change, but it’s a necessary change. It’s safer this way,” Mackell said Saturday as she stood in line to buy pies from a farmstand by Rittenhouse Square.

The 26-year-old Fairmount resident feels the same way about her teaching job in Montgomery County going virtual.

Last week, the Montgomery County Board of Health unanimously passed an order that will shutter all school buildings for two weeks starting Monday, Nov. 23. Officials hope the ruling, which hundreds of parents and other residents spoke out against, will help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in classrooms and the larger community, which has been hard hit by the virus.

“It’s a complete and total change I was not prepared for, but hopefully it’s not going for that much longer,” said Mackell, a speech-language pathologist for pre-K students.

Overall though, Mackell said, she feels fortunate: She’s healthy. She doesn’t have any pre-existing conditions that make her vulnerable to becoming infected with COVID-19.

Philadelphia has recorded nearly 60,000 positive coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic. More than a third of them have come since the start of October, according to city data.

On Friday, the most recent day for which data was available, the Health Department reported more than a 1,000 new positive cases — the fourth time that’s happened this month.

More than 2,000 people in Philadelphia have died from the virus since March.

Sitting on a bench inside the park, Rittenhouse resident Ben Isser said he’s been fortunate during the pandemic, but finds the fall surge “discouraging and incredibly concerning,” especially for frontline workers and employees who don’t have the luxury of working from home.

Despite new restrictions banning indoor dining and limiting outdoor dining options, visitors ate at some Rittenhouse Square restaurants on Nov. 21, 2020. (Aaron Moselle/WHYY)

Isser, 35, said he supports the city’s latest pandemic restrictions, but would feel better if they were paired with compensation for the people whose livelihoods are being affected as a result.

“They’re insufficient without people being provided the resources to survive without their job,” he said. “We’re asking a lot of working people to either put themselves at risk by working or stay at home and starve.”

The restaurant industry has been one of the worst-hit sectors of Philly’s economy. Some spots have shut down. Many others are struggling to stay afloat.

Five months ago, Kenneth Childs lost a good-paying chef position at a Thai restaurant in Manayunk. Hit hard by the pandemic, the owners decided to close it down.

Childs, 54, was eligible for unemployment, but has since used up his benefits. Without another steady source of income, he became homeless for the second time in nearly a decade.

Over the summer, he was sleeping on the streets. He now has a bed at a safe-haven facility in North Philadelphia. He’s been doing odd jobs to keep some money in his pocket, and recently helped set up the Christmas Village at LOVE Park.

After grabbing a free meal from Liberti Church, Childs said that he’s tired of the pandemic, but also ready to tackle the months ahead — one day at a time.

“It’s not how you fall, it’s how you get back up,” said Childs. “I always bounce back.”

Until then, he’ll wait out the pandemic like everyone else.

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