Pa. coronavirus update: ‘This is a very dangerous period,’ Philly health commissioner says

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley answers questions at the city's daily coronavirus briefing at the Fire Administration Building on Friday, March 13, 2020. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley answers questions at the city's daily coronavirus briefing at the Fire Administration Building on Friday, March 13, 2020. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Philadelphia could be facing some new restrictions as COVID-19 cases increase, and that city officials are in talks with the state Health Department, surrounding counties and New Jersey for possible coordination.

“Everything is on the table right now,” Farley said in a press briefing Friday. “We’re looking at all possibilities.”

Philadelphia reported the highest daily number since the pandemic began. Farley reported 742 new cases, bringing the total case count to 47,675.

Five additional deaths were reported, bringing the total to 1,889, and the commissioner said he is expecting that number to rise.

Farley said that the high number of positives came from more than 5,300 test results, a large number, but that the percentage of positives was higher than usual at 14%. He also reported the weekly count averaged 387 cases per day, the highest since late April, and the highest positive percentage since mid-May at 9.1%, which is about four times that of September.

With the rising number of cases comes an increase in hospitalizations — Farley reported 267 hospitalized COVID-19 patients as of Thursday. Last week, it was 211. There was a low of about 90 in September.

Cases are increasing among all ages, from kids to adults in their 70s, every racial and ethnic group in every zip code, Farley said. He added that the city identified three schools out of about 95 they “think are doing in-school education” where investigations suggest COVID spread within the school.

With those figures in mind, Farley urged residents to avoid gatherings as much as possible, even suggesting work from home, if possible. The risk of infection is increasing with the colder weather and drier air and people spending more time indoors, and the virus is following the pattern of the flu and other respiratory viruses, where there is a rise in the fall and a peak in the winter months of January and February, he said.

Farley urged residents to “stay away from others,” noting that “family gatherings are simply very dangerous.”

“Make no mistake about it, this is a very dangerous period. This is possibly the worst period of the entire epidemic,” said Farley. “The virus is spreading in households, in family gatherings, in social gatherings, maybe in workplaces, maybe in restaurants.”

Farley said the city has observed that 75% of people leaving retail stores are wearing masks, and that is not enough — the city’s goal is to reach 95%.

“If you are part of the 25% not wearing a mask, you are putting yourself and others and your community at risk,” said Farley, before concluding the update with, “Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask.”

Pa. records its highest daily case count, too

On Friday, Pennsylvania reported its highest daily increase of positive COVID-19 cases too, 3,384. The statewide total is now 223,950 cases.

State officials reported 38 new deaths, bringing the statewide total to 8,975.

In nursing and personal care homes thus far, there have been 27,104 resident cases of COVID-19, and 5,810 cases among employees, for a total of 32,914 at 1,106 distinct facilities in 63 counties, the state Health Department reported. As for deaths, 5,903 have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.

Approximately 12,811 of total coronavirus cases are among health care workers.

The highest percentage of increases in positive cases is among the age group between 25 and 49, at about 36%. That increase is highest in the north central region of Pennsylvania, going from 7% in April to about 20% in November. In the Southeast region, the increase went from 5% in April to 11 % in November.

As of Friday, there were 1,599 people hospitalized with the virus across Pennsylvania. Of that number, 351 patients are in the intensive care unit. Most deaths and hospitalized patients are 65 or older.

New research program

State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine also announced that her department has published a request for applications for entities to conduct collaborative research on COVID-19, with a focus on the health impacts of the virus and novel treatments for it.

“The lessons learned from COVID-19 will inform public health for years, decades and centuries to come,” Levine said in a statement. “There continues to be much to learn about the COVID-19 virus, the health impacts of the virus, what treatments exist, and the usability of those treatments.”

The request opened on Oct. 28, and the deadline for collaborative research is Dec. 9. The grant work will begin on June 1, 2021, and end on May 31, 2025. Those Interested must submit a letter of intent as instructed.

The research must involve an applicant and one or more collaborating organizations that will coordinate to identify priorities and conduct research. The research allowed includes biomedical research, clinical research and health services research.

The department anticipates about $10 million will be available to fund three grants. Potential topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Research related to improving the knowledge of the genetic makeup of COVID-19 and associated viruses, like SARS-CoV-2.
  • Research related to the population, behavioral, and mental health impacts of COVID-19.
  • Research related to vaccine development and testing to support public health through immunization.

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