Philadelphia City Council is going live and in-person for the first time in over two years. Council President Darrell Clarke said they are doing everything possible to keep both Council members and the public safe.
“People have been requesting that we come in in-person for quite some time,” he said. “Unfortunately, the health issues as it relates to COVID-19 has been somewhat of a different animal in terms of the unpredictability of the particular virus.”
As an added precaution, only 50 public spectators will be allowed in chambers, with the caucus room being used for overflow.
“We think we’re at a place now where we’ve had significant input from the health commissioner, with the appropriate protocols as relates to safety, we think we’re going to be okay,” Clarke said.
With the caucus room being used for overflow, Council’s weekly caucus meetings will not happen as it did pre-pandemic. Lengthy council sessions might not happen all at one time either.
“We may take a break again, based on the recommendation of the health commissioner, based on the time in a particular room,” Clarke said. “It’s believed that even with mask wearing, at some point when there’s a high level of virus in the air … that it may ultimately defeat the mask. So, there might be some possibilities of some timeouts.”
Clarke said council members will be masked. He’s hoping anyone else in the chamber will also don a mask, even though council cannot mandate mask wearing.
“As much as people like to suggest that somehow the pandemic is over, it is not. People are still getting infected. People are still getting sick,” Clarke said. “One of the things that we made sure we did before we started down this route, we had a number of briefings from the health commissioner and the health department to talk about, you know, doing this in a safe and reliable way. So, we will count and members will be wearing masks, high quality masks, like the N-95 and KN-95. I’ll be wearing my traditional N-95, but I think we’re going to be good.”
The only people allowed on the council floor will be the council members, one aide and council staff. Every other seat in the gallery will be left vacant as part of the health precautions.
Council will continue to hold public hearings virtually via Microsoft Teams as they did during the pandemic.
The seating arrangement will also be different with the desks staggered to give more breathing room for council members.
For now, there are four vacancies on council, meaning there will just be 13 members on the floor. A special election will bring the council back to its full complement of 17 by early November.