Pa. coronavirus recovery: Philly continues slow slide toward reopening

Sidewalk cafe at Cross Keys Cafe (Danya Henninger / Billy Penn)

Sidewalk cafe at Cross Keys Cafe (Danya Henninger / Billy Penn)

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Pennsylvania’s Department of Health on Thursday reported 77,313 cases of the novel coronavirus, including 6,113 fatalities. As of Thursday, Philadelphia health officials reported 24,107 cases, including 1,434 deaths.

Philly continues slow slide toward reopening

City officials say they’re seeing continued, positive trends when it comes to new COVID-19 cases, but that doesn’t mean residents should throw caution to the wind.

Nearly a week after moving to the yellow phase of Pennsylvania’s recovery plan, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the city is still seeing new cases. There have been 156 confirmed since yesterday, for a total of 24,107 since the pandemic began.

“Now this 156 number is higher than we’ve seen, but we did get many test results in today — more than 2,100,” Farley said.

He added, he’s concerned about the impact a spate of recent protests will have on overall city health, but noted that many of the protesters were wearing masks.

He reported one new death since yesterday, for a total of 1,434. More than 300 people remain hospitalized with the virus.

As part of its relatively cautious reopening plan, Philadelphia plans to allow outdoor dining to resume this week.

City Managing Director Brian Abernathy said Thursday, restaurants that already have patio areas or sidewalk café licenses can begin offering seating there on June 12. Those that don’t have outdoor licenses can opt for other solutions, like using parking spaces, empty lots or shutting down streets with city approval.

“We’ve committed to a three-day turnaround for sidewalk cafes and for what we are calling ‘streeteries’ along the curb lane in parking spaces,” Deputy Managing Director Michael Carroll said. “If folks are looking to do a street closure … that will take more time, but I’m hopeful we can turn those types of applications around in about five to 10 business days.”

The city is also offering up grants and loans in an effort to help businesses that were hit hard by recent unrest and looting.

Abernathy said $1.4 million in grants have been dedicated “to help businesses in historically disadvantaged communities that experienced damage or inventory loss from the recent civil unrest to cover expenses to recover and reopen.”

The city is launching the grant program in partnering with the nonprofit Merchants Fund, and Abernathy said they’re hoping to raise more money going forward. He said a $3-million loan program called Restart PHL is also available for certain impacted small business owners.

WHYY’s Tom MacDonald contributed reporting.

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Beer in the park returns, with some extra precautions

One Philly tradition that’s not going away thanks to COVID-19 — Parks on Tap, the city’s traveling beer garden meant to promote its parks.

The event’s fifth season is going to look a little different, though. For one thing, it’s no longer traveling. Instead, there will be several fixed locations — the first of which is set to open on Friday, June 12 on the grounds of the Fairmount Horticulture Center Arboretum.

The city says it’s planning to implement new cleaning measures, make sure people have enough room to social distance, and maintain the ability to do contact tracing among the people who visit, among other things.

Hours for the Arboretum location will be Monday to Friday, from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 10:00 p.m. throughout the season. Memberships are free, and food and drink are pay-as-you-go.

Mann Center cancels summer season, appeals for financial help

Philadelphia’s Mann Center has announced that it won’t put on any shows this summer.

The coronavirus-induced closure is a first for the performing arts venue, which first began operating in the 1930s. The Roots Picnic, which had been scheduled for Aug. 1 is the highest profile event to get canceled. Earlier events that had already been delayed are now off the schedule, including May’s Hall & Oates HoagieNation Festival. The Mann’s entire classical season is also canceled.

In a press release, President and CEO Catherine Cahill said the Mann’s leadership had “worked diligently on contingency planning to prudently steward the Mann’s response during this time and ensure that our beloved campus in Fairmount Park would be ready to welcome patrons and artists back whenever it was deemed safe to do so.”

But now, she said, guidance from the state and city has made it clear it won’t be safe to go ahead with this summer’s season.

“While it is a heart-wrenching decision, it is one we share with arts and culture organizations across the region and around the world,” Cahill said. “It is very clearly the right thing to do for the safety and well-being of our artists, patrons, volunteers, and Mann team – which is always our top priority.”

The decision, however, puts the Mann in the same tricky financial position that many venues now face. It is a nonprofit, and gets its funding through a combination of ticket, concession and parking sales, along with individual and corporate donations, public funding and rental agreements.

Much of its revenue has long come in the summer months. And in their release, Mann leadership noted that they are “not fully capitalized” to deal with that loss — they estimated their shortfall will be about $2 million — even with salary cuts, staff furloughs and spending freezes.

This is not an insurmountable situation by any means, but it does mean we must address the problem now,” Cahill said.

The center has launched an emergency fundraising effort in an attempt to fill its budget gap. Dubbed the “Music Play Resiliency Fund for the Mann,” Cahill said the fund has already collected $400,000 from longtime donors.

At the same time, the center is already planning for its 2021 season. More than half of the shows that were scheduled for this summer have been bumped to next year.

The Mann is instructing people who had tickets for the now-canceled season to visit its website for refunds and details on specific shows.

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