Coronavirus update: Mayor Kenney announces first steps for reopening Philadelphia

Mayor Jim Kenney (City of Philadelphia)

Mayor Jim Kenney (City of Philadelphia)

Updated at 5:15 p.m.

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To date, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has reported 46,284 cases total COVID-19 cases (including confirmed and probable cases). There are 116,264 cases in New Jersey and 4,655 cases in Delaware. Philadelphia has 13,803 cases.

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Pennsylvania’s death toll stands at 2,312, New Jersey’s is at 6,770, and Delaware’s is at 144. Philadelphia’s death toll is 516.

Note: Pa. no longer includes probable COVID-19 deaths in its official count, only deaths that have been confirmed through testing.

Mayor Kenney announces first steps of reopening Philadelphia

Mayor Jim Kenney announced Wednesday he will begin opening construction projects and some recreational activities, following an executive order by Gov. Tom Wolf.

Construction activity in Philadelphia will begin Friday, with some restrictions. Work is not permitted in occupied dwellings, except for emergencies, and the number of workers per site is limited. In addition, all companies must have a certified pandemic safety officer and formulate a safety plan.

“I’m confident the resumption of construction activity in Philadelphia will prove to be a much-needed boost to economic activity in the city,” Kenney said during a press conference. “I’m equally confident everyone involved will be vigilant in adhering to these safe procedures and protocols as construction resumes.”

Five city-owned golf courses and two driving ranges also will open Friday. Golfers must register in advance, arrive at tee time, and not engage in socializing. Concessions will remain available on a takeout basis only.

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The following golf clubs will open Friday:

  • Cobbs Creek and Karakung Golf Courses
  • Walnut Lane Golf Club
  • John F. Byrne Golf Club
  • Juniata Golf Club
  • Burholme Golf & Family Entertainment Center
  • Strawberry Green (33rd and Oxford) Driving Range

Many unknowns remain in state’s plan to begin reopening counties

Pennsylvania’s Department of Health says it’s still working out many of the specifics of its plan to start reopening some of Pennsylvania’s counties by the end of next week.

At least a few counties — most likely in the north central and northwest parts of the state — will probably move from a red to a yellow designation in Governor Tom Wolf’s color-coded reopening plan on Friday, May 8.

It isn’t clear, however, exactly which businesses will be cleared to reopen under that new designation. Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said she’s working with the governor’s office on a more specific list, but said she couldn’t give specifics until “later this week.”

One category of businesses Levine said will definitely reopen is day care centers, so that “families can go back to work.” Some of those facilities, she noted, are large and might technically violate the planned limit on large gatherings. Levine said that particular issue isn’t yet resolved, but likely will be soon. Also unresolved is the question of whether summer camps will be allowed to open under the yellow phase.

Levine noted that the state has not spent much time coming up with a plan for when counties will be allowed to move to the green designation in Wolf’s color-coded plan, as the first priority is moving to yellow. She added that a move to green won’t necessarily preclude a move back to yellow or red.

“Even when we go green, COVID-19 is not just going to be gone from the United States,” she said.

Levine also responded to a recent NPR report that estimated Pennsylvania does not meet the recommended level of staffing for coronavirus contact tracing. The commonwealth has 160 staff members, or 1.2 staffers per 100,000 residents — nearly 30 times fewer than recommended.

She said the DOH has “pretty much finalized” a contact tracing plan. She said along with state personnel, the department plans to collaborate with county and municipal staff and health systems to the appropriate level of tracing, and noted that she believes it is an “excellent” plan. She declined to explain further, saying more details will be available later this week.

Levine characterized the state’s 1,102 new COVID-19 cases as an expected increase, but noted the 479 new deaths do mark a significant jump.

But that change, she said, shouldn’t be cause for concern — it’s the result of the state’s “reconciliation” of different data sources, including uncounted deaths recorded over the last 10 days by its Electronic Death Reporting System, which lets officials like funeral directors and coroners from around the state input their own data.

Philadelphia public health officials say testing, medical supplies still low

Public health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said testing supplies still are limited.

Philadelphia must reserve its limited testing supplies for those who are most likely to have poor outcomes from contracting COVID-19, such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

“At the moment, we’re trying to preserve limited supplies for those [for whom] the results of testing are most valued,” he said during Wednesday’s press conference.

As cases decline and testing supplies increase, however, those with less serious symptoms will be able to get tested.

Philadelphia has opened five new testing sites, and is working with federally qualified health centers in Philadelphia to expand testing in underserved communities.

The city also continues to face a shortage of personal protection equipment, officials said. Discussions with FEMA now are underway to find out if it is possible to decontaminate N95 masks.

Mayor responds to president Trump’s suggestion bailout money will be reserved for cities favoring his immigration policies

On Tuesday President Trump said he would be open to a federal relief plan to state and local governments — but only for states impacted directly by coronavirus, and not for those economically impacted by “mismanagement over a long time.”

The president suggested the bailouts could depend on whether or not cities asking for relief have immigration policies that align with his administration’s.

Kenney said what Trump is suggesting is not legal.

“Congress would have to put in specific restrictions for that to apply, he does not have the power to do that himself,” he said during a press conference. “And more importantly, it’s not his money, it’s our money, it’s our taxpayers’ money. It’s all the citizens’ money. It’s not his. It’s not like the king in his counting house counting his money. It belongs to all of us Americans, and he’s not on legal footing.”

Philadelphia sued the U.S. Department of Justice in 2017 for withholding public safety grants that came with three new conditions demanding greater cooperation with immigration enforcement.

City Solicitor Marcel Pratt said if the city had to take action again, it would.

Chester County to reopen parks

Chester County plans to reopen parks starting next Wednesday, officials said.

The county’s seven parks will open in phases on May 6 and May 12, following Gov. Tom Wolf’s order to reopen some outdoor recreational activities.

Park visitors must continue to practice social distancing, and the county advises avoiding parks when parking lots are full. Visitors should also wear masks, said county Commissioner Josh Maxwell.

“The weather is improving, and visits to all of our parks are great for our physical and mental well-being,” Maxwell said in a statement. “But we cannot stress enough the need to continue adhering to the recommendations to stop the spread of the coronavirus — from keeping six feet apart and wearing masks, to the frequent use of hand sanitizer before, during, and after visiting our parks and trails.”

Park permits, pavilion rentals, volunteer programs and ranger programs remain canceled for May and June.

Parks will reopen on the following dates:

  • May 6: Black Rock Sanctuary, Wolf’s Hollow and Exton Parks
  • May 12: Hibernia Park, Nottingham County Park, Springton Manor Farm and Warwick Park

Montco: nursing homes, prisons, most vulnerable for COVID-19

Montgomery County officials announced 173 new positive cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases to 4,037. Eleven more residents have died from coronavirus, bringing the total deaths to 244.

Long-term care facilities have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, with 90 facilities reporting COVID-19 cases — and about 81% of the county’s deaths are individuals in long term care facilities.

As of Wednesday, there were 1,050 total cases among long-term care residents and 439 among staff, bringing the total number of cases in long-term care facilities to 1,489 cases, among residents and staff. Not all of these individuals who tested positive for the virus are residents of the county.

The county’s Field Assessment and Support Team (FAST) is conducting outreach to the hardest-hit facilities, visiting 27 institutions since late last week. These visits are designed to help facilities; reviewing infection-control policies, asking about PPE needs, and answering questions they have. The county recommends testing on all residents and staff.

“These individuals do go to hospitals. Yes, it’s correct there are some individuals who have ‘do not hospitalize’ orders, but quite a few do not. Some people are in these facilities because they are recovering from a hip replacement,” said Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.

“These numbers matter. When these [long-term care residents] go to hospital, it’s frequently a 911 call that’s placed. So that exposes our first responders. When they go to the hospital they will occupy a bed and expose health care workers. I want to remind everyone, these are our fellow community members and these numbers matter. The staff who are working hard at these facilities to keep their residents safe and well-cared for are also being exposed, and the staff go home to their families and communities.”

Arkoosh also said 942 people in prison have been tested for COVID-19, with 177 testing positive. Only six of them have displayed symptoms.

“This is another example of why it’s important to test people who live in congregant facilities,” Arkoosh said.

Preparing for life after coronavirus

Montgomery County has flattened the curve, and it’s now time to learn how to live safely as the pandemic lessens, Arkoosh said.

She said the county wants to restore the economy, get people back to work and safely reopen schools in the fall — while protecting hospital workers and first responders.

Data shows coronavirus cases are at a plateau, but Arkoosh said the county must get its numbers lower before it fully opens the county. Hospitals must have enough PPE, and there need to be more patients being discharged than being admitted.

Most importantly, Arkoosh said, there needs to be more testing in place in order to reopen the economy safely.

When lockdown measures ease, residents still will have to practice social distancing measures, and this means people may not be shaking hands for a long time, she said.

Arkoosh said now also is the time for business owners to put an action plan in place to reopen responsibly.

Each business will have their own individual needs, she said. Some meat-processing facilities have taken steps to slow down their processing lines, place plastic barriers between workers, and add more handwashing stations. Barbershops and salons will need adequate masks, and should place orders now, Arkoosh said.

“We will get through this if we each do everything we can to be part of the solution. If we all follow data-driven recommendations and evidence-based solutions, we will beat this thing. But for now we must stay at home. Use this time wisely to make your plan,” Arkoosh said.

She said if residents don’t take necessary social distancing actions, coronavirus cases will spike again and the county will be forced to go into another lockdown.

“It’s in your hands, folks. You need to take personal responsibility for your actions. I can’t make you do it, there’s not enough law enforcement to make you do it. This is on all of us, we’re all in this together,” Arkoosh said. “Your actions impact me, your parents, your kids, everybody else. This is a time for everybody to step up and do the right thing. I know you will, I know you can, you just have to decide to do it.”

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