COVID cases ‘skyrocketing’ in Philadelphia, says health commissioner

People wearing face masks walk through Philadelphia

People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walk in Philadelphia, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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The city of Philadelphia is seeing what is being called a skyrocketing case count of COVID-19 infections, and health department officials say people need to step up precautions.

Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said the city is averaging 3,108 new cases of COVID-19 each day and is seeing about a 40% positive test result. Bettigole said the actual number of people who have the virus is reaching the highest number since the pandemic began and “is rising rapidly.”

“Conditions at Philadelphia’s hospitals are stressed and many are delaying surgeries that can be delayed,” she said at a Wednesday press briefing.

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Bettigole said hospital officials are telling the department the majority of people who are under their care have not received a booster shot. She put out a call for people who have not received a booster to get one immediately.

“I am asking every Philadelphian to get their booster today if they’re electable. Even if you’re young and healthy, your city needs you to get your booster to help stop the spread of this virus and help keep our seniors and our young children out of the hospital. I know you’re busy. I know it might make you feel bad for a day or so. We are getting close to the kind of dire situation we all dread, in which treatable conditions can be fatal because our hospitals simply don’t have room or staff to take care of those who need help,” said Bettigole.

The death counts in the city have risen compared to recent months, but fatalities remain significantly lower compared to the rates seen during the COVID case surge that occurred in January of 2021, before vaccines were widespread.

The commissioner recommends wearing a tight-fitting surgical mask when in public indoors, saying basic cloth masks are not providing enough protection to the highly-transmissible omicron variant.

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This week, the School District of Philadelphia shifted 92 of its schools to virtual learning at least through Friday based on staff shortages due to the virus.

City officials do not recommend a full return to virtual schooling for epidemiological reasons.  “In our own data from Philadelphia when we do see cases in schools, the majority of the cases do not come from school transmission; they are from the home setting,” said Buttigole.

The commissioner also spoke about the shortage of testing availability in the city, telling people if they feel sick and can’t get a test, they probably are positive for COVID. “Stay home, drink fluids, rest, isolate for five days and then get a test if you can,” she said.

Bettigole added, “If you’re feeling better after five days, it’s not a good idea to go visit someone in a nursing home or visit an elderly relative or a young infant.”

Officials expect a federal COVID test site with the capacity to test 500 people a day to open by the end of the week.

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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