Philly health commissioner advises against holiday gatherings

With an increase of new COVID-19 cases after Thanksgiving, Bettigole warns holiday gatherings could cause a surge hospitals in the city may have difficulties handling.

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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Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole is advising against holiday gatherings of multiple households.

During a briefing on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic Wednesday morning, Bettigole said cases are on the rise and are reaching peaks seen in the spring.

The commissioner said as a person, she didn’t want to recommend canceling events, but as a heath professional, she believes it’s necessary to stop the spread of the virus.

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“Please do not get together with other households for Christmas or if you do, keep those gatherings small,” said Bettigole. “Have everyone do a rapid test before they come and ask everyone to stay home if they feel even a little bit unwell. Please do not hold or attend holiday parties indoors. It’s just too dangerous.”

“Instead, profess your brotherly love and sisterly affection by wearing your mask, by avoiding crowded indoor spaces, by staying home, and getting every dose of COVID vaccine that you’re eligible for,” she said.

Bettigole said if you decide to attend or host a gathering, make sure everyone gets a rapid test. She said checking everyone’s vaccination status can be a good way to go, but is not a complete replacement for a negative test.

“You could reasonably get together with more people if everybody is vaccinated in person,” she said. “I still think about doing a rapid test if somebody either who’s coming to the event or someone you’re going to be around after the event is at high risk. If you have a grandmother or somebody who’s on cancer treatment or a newborn baby or pregnant woman.”

Her message comes as Philadelphia announced a new vaccine mandate for restaurants, sports venues, movie theaters, and most other indoor establishments that serve food. The mandate begins on Jan. 3, 2022, and will not be in effect during the height of the holiday season.

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As of Tuesday, the city is seeing an average of 544 new cases per day, Bettigole said, which is double what it reported last month. In the past two weeks, 5,702 Philadelphians have tested positive for COVID-19.

“Right now, the number of positive cases per week is nearing the peak of the spring wave and it’s likely to surpass,” she said. “That means we could be nearing the peak we saw last winter when we had to institute the safer at-home protocols.”

The commissioner said area hospitals are seeing double the cases they did last month.

“They’re managing the additional patient volume with flu season just around the corner,” she said. “I’m very concerned that a spike in people being hospitalized for COVID may put our hospitals over the edge.”

Bettigole said most of the cases are among unvaccinated people, and are not breakthrough cases.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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