UPDATED: 4:06 p.m.
The commission voted Wednesday to include a pre-paid return envelope with every ballot as the coronavirus crisis carries on.
Commission Chair Lisa Deeley said even if the stay-at-home order is not lifted by June 2, everyone can still vote.
“Pennsylvania has a new ‘no excuse’ mail-in ballot now, and every voter should take advantage of it,” she said.
In a digital world, they understand not everyone has stamps on hand, and officials don’t want voters running out to get them, so the commission voted unanimously to include return postage.
So far, they’ve received more than 28,000 applications. The commission voted to start sending the ballots back in a week to 10 days, once the pre-paid envelopes are available.
If every voter uses the mail-in option, as recommended, it would cost about $200,000.
Still, Deeley wants all voters to take advantage of Pennsylvania’s new rules.
“Just because voters are staying home, that should not mean they shouldn’t vote,” Deeley said.
However, they’re still looking for polling places. They’ve identified 355 public buildings that could be available — less than half the number they’d normally need. Another reason, Deeley said, to vote by mail.
“Stay safe,” she added. “Vote from home.”
To request an absentee or mail-in ballot for the upcoming election, click here.
Philadelphia case count
The Philadelphia Department of Public Health announced an additional 505 cases of coronavirus and 13 more deaths on Wednesday, bringing the citywide total to 4,777 cases and 78 deaths.
More than 40% of those deaths were long-term care residents, and 68% of the deaths were among people over the age of 70.
It appears slightly more African-American patients have died, though racial information is only available for about two-third of the cases.
Health Commissioner Tom Farley noted there are clusters of positive cases in places like nursing homes, behavioral health facilities and prisons. To date, 62 inmates have tested positive.
However, officials say they see hopeful signs in these latest figures.
Farley said the amount of Wednesday’s reported increase is the same as the last couple of days, indicating that the rapid increase in the number of cases is slowing.
“The virus is still circulating. If we start behaving as we were before — lots of social contact — there’s no question that the virus will surge again,” he said.
Philadelphia’s slow-down assessment came the same day that the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force said they were looking at Philadelphia as a future hot spot. Farley disagreed.
“I doubt that she’s looking at numbers as updated as we are,” he argued. “I’m glad she’s concerned about Philadelphia. We have been hit hard so far, but at the moment things are looking a little bit better.”
City officials would not release information on the number of police officers who are affected by coronavirus, but Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said less than 1% of officers have been diagnosed or quarantined with COVID-19.
“There is … a very delicate balance between releasing information on a daily basis that could also lead to panic, or people calling in sick because of fear or paranoia,” she said. “Our numbers, fortunately — and I hope it stays this way — are low enough to where I am not concerned about a need to call for mutual aid or finding other ways to staff our traditionally filled positions.”
SEPTA service limited
Starting Thursday, SEPTA will put a "lifeline service schedule" into effect.
SEPTA is closing 10 Market-Frankford Line stations and eight Broad Street Line stops; suspending six Regional Rail lines (Chestnut Hill East and West, Cynwyd, Manayunk/Norristown, West Trenton and Wilmington/Newark); and limiting bus and trolley service to 60 core routes. The full details are on septa.org.
SEPTA is also asking all passengers to wear a mask or face covering.
The stations and lines that remain open will give people access to hospitals, grocery stores and other life-sustaining places.
The changes come after SEPTA reported coronavirus-related deaths of three employees.
Labor union contracts extended
Mayor Jim Kenney said the city reached a tentative agreement on a one-year contract extension with AFSCME District Council 47. This comes one week after a similar agreement was reached with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5.
The extension includes a 2% raise and a signing bonus.
Negotiations with Philadelphia Firefighters' and Paramedics' Union Local 22 and trade union AFSCME District Council 33 are continuing. The current contracts with all four municipal worker unions expire at the end of June.
Good Friday closures
All city offices will be closed for Good Friday. COVID-19 testing sites will remain open. However, the Citizens Bank Park site will cease operations altogether after Friday.
Trash will not be collected, so residents who have collection on Friday should set out their trash Friday evening for collection on Saturday. Recycling collections will resume next week and will continue on an every-other-week schedule until further notice.
The School District of Philadelphia’s 49 student meal distribution sites will be closed on Monday, April 13, due to Good Friday. The holiday affects the meal-packing schedule.
Meals that would have been distributed on that day will instead be available on Tuesday, April 14, from 9 a.m. to noon.