Pa. coronavirus update: City didn’t seek help from medical centers before entrusting Philly Fighting COVID with vaccine

After receiving the vaccination, patients wait under observation at the mass vaccine clinic at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

After receiving the vaccination, patients wait under observation at the mass vaccine clinic at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Updated at 7:07 p.m.

Ask us about COVID-19: What questions do you have about the current surge?

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley expressed regret about trusting thousands of vaccine doses to now-disgraced start-up Philly Fighting COVID — adding he assumed established health systems would be too busy for the task.

Officials confirmed they’d received at least seven applications for its community vaccination request for proposals, including from major health systems Penn Medicine, Einstein, and Temple Health.

The end-of-year approvals of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were widely anticipated for months before the FDA emergency use authorization and shipment began. Asked why the city hadn’t used this time to set up a vaccine-distribution system with big medical players, Farley responded he assumed they’d be too busy.

“I’m not sure, if we had gone to these other organizations and said, during a time when you’re vaccinating thousands of your own staff, ‘Can you also do this other operation for us?’ whether they would have said ‘yes,’” said Farley.

City officials cut off Philly Fighting COVID’s vaccine supply after the organization pivoted to for-profit status and left residents seeking tests in the lurch. Questions about what the start-up may do with use data collected as part of their vaccine registration worry city officials.

Nurses at the Philly Fighting COVID vaccination center allege the start-up’s CEO was seen taking vaccines home with him and administering some off-site.

Wolf: Biden Administration promises more doses

Governor Tom Wolf lamented the lack of additional doses to go along with federal guidance to expand vaccine eligibility pools to those 65 and older, but officials have said more vaccines are on the way.

“’I’m hopeful that the Biden administration is going to be able to put more efficient processes in place,” said Wolf. “They’ve already talked about increasing the supply, and that they’re going to give us better guidance. With a better federal vaccine-distribution process, vaccine distribution in Pennsylvania will absolutely move faster.”

President Joe Biden recently upped his one million dose a day goal to 1.5 million a day. The goal seems increasingly realistic as the rolling national weekly average has already topped a million.

Wolf also introduced the new Acting Secretary of Health, Allison Beam, who gave her first COVID briefing since replacing Rachel Levine. Levine was tapped by the Biden administration to become the new assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Beam reported statewide hospitalizations were declining — now at 3,887— but still above the spring peak.

Philly restaurant and gym relief program accepting applications Thursday

Struggling Philly restaurants and gyms may soon get a financial lifeline from the city.

Applications for financial help will be accepted starting Thursday at 11 a.m. at phila.gov/rgrp.

Officials estimate the grants will range between $5,000 and $15,000.

“It’s not just a public health crisis, but an economic crisis as well,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “And Philadelphia small businesses have been hit incredibly hard by the pandemic.”

The city has seen fluctuating closures and capacity limits, especially on indoor dining, since the start of the pandemic.

Safer At Home policies were relaxed to allow limited indoor dining and other activities starting Jan. 16 as COVID cases in Philly and the region continue a weekslong decline.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley stressed it’s still too dangerous for indoor social gatherings — singling out Super Bowl parties as particularly risky.

Weekly COVID deaths also declined to 85 from a 100-a-week peak in the latter part of December. Farley said he expects that number may rise slightly, but will likely decline with the declining cases.

Delaware, Bucks counties launch call centers for vaccine and testing questions

Delaware and Bucks county officials have launched COVID vaccinations and testing hotlines to answer questions from residents who aren’t able to connect with officials online or through social media.

The idea is to answer vaccine questions from seniors and others who do not have internet access or prefer the telephone.

The number for the Delaware County Call Center is (484) 276-2100. It is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Hotline workers will help callers complete vaccine eligibility surveys otherwise done online, as well as help them find and register at testing sites. The main mission is disseminating vaccine-related information, but officials said workers will try and answer general COVID questions as well.

Delaware County faces a uniquely challenging COVID situation as the biggest county in the commonwealth without its own health department.

Bucks County residents can call 1-800-383-0371 to fill out vaccine eligibility information.

Officials urge residents across the region to access vaccine information and register by internet whenever possible before turning to the phones to avoid overloading lines.

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