Philly’s top doc recommends another Zoom holiday as COVID rates rise, vaccinations plateau

Tables are set up inside the FEMA-run coronavirus vaccination site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia

Tables are set up inside the FEMA-run coronavirus vaccination site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. (Albert Lee/City of Philadelphia)

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Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley advised city residents to celebrate Passover remotely for a second year in a row.

During a Friday press briefing, Farley cited a recent rise in COVID-19 cases while advising those not already residing together to skip joint celebrations.

“I appreciate the fact that people want to get together with their relatives,” he said. “But I recommend the same thing we recommended during Christmas and New Years: Don’t get together with your relatives or people you don’t live with.”

The city recorded 524 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 novel coronavirus in Philadelphia, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 121,772. That city’s seven-day case average is now up to nearly 454, up from 200 at the end of February.

Farley said new, more contagious virus strains were likely behind a surge in cases.

“I’m concerned about it. The variants we’re seeing are from the UK,” he said. “They’re more transmissible and that’s not a good thing.”

He emphasized that the new variants were not more lethal –– which is likely why deaths are still much rarer now than during a surge of virus cases in January.

Farley said testing ahead of holidays was often not fast enough to completely eliminate the risk of infection.

Meanwhile, the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations in Philadelphia is slowing after weeks of ramped-up distribution.

The lag comes just as the city — and the nation— set an ambitious new target for vaccinations.

Philadelphia health officials say they want to increase vaccine distribution by 50% in the coming month in order to keep pace with national vaccination goals set by President Joe Biden.

But data from the city’s Department of Public Health shows the number of people vaccinated each week began to shrink in March, even as officials say supply increased.

Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley acknowledged the issue but says Philadelphia will be able to provide tens of thousands more doses by the end of April.

“I’m definitely worried about anything that’s not increasing,” Farley said. “But I’m still feeling good about the overall long term increase.”

Part of the decline was driven by the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium – their staff took a temporary break last week, reducing the number of shots administered.

Still, officials say they can’t fully account for the slower pace of vaccination.

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