COVID-19 testing sites expand across Philly


UPDATED: 9:30 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Pennsylvania Department of Health announced that cases of coronavirus across the state have now neared 100.

Twenty new cases were reported Tuesday, bringing the total to 96.

All patients are either in isolation at home or being treated at the hospital.

We are not yet seeing sustained community spread.We expect that sustained community spread will happen in PA, which makes the measures that @GovernorTomWolf announced last week + yesterday so essential to protecting our residents.Latest information:

— PA Department of Health (@PAHealthDept) March 17, 2020

Nearly 880 patients across the state tested negative for COVID-19. 

In accordance with the CDC, for the next eight weeks, it is recommended that large events are canceled or postponed. People should not be in groups greater than 10.

On Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered non-essential businesses across the state to shut down to help prevent the spread of the new virus.

Changes to the date of the state primary election are unknown at this time.

A member of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court is now in self-quarantine. One of the children of state Supreme Court Justice David Wecht tested presumptively positive for coronavirus after returning from overseas studies. Wecht has now self-quarantined along with his family.

Where to get tested for COVID-19

In the last 24 hours, cases in Philadelphia doubled, and Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley expects that amount to continue to increase as testing becomes more available.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health said it discovered nine new cases, bringing the total just in the city to 18. 

Farley said some of the new patients did not travel internationally, nor did they have contact with a known case.

“So we do know this virus is circulating in the community,” he said. “It's what we expected. It's definitely what's happening.”

For privacy reasons, he has not been revealing where the cases are. With this development, he said residents should assume it's everywhere. But, the city is in touch with 114 people who had direct contact with the known patients.

The city's major health systems have set up six rapid test sites: Penn Medicine has some in West Philadelphia and Radnor; Jefferson Health in Center City and Abington; Temple Health in North Philadelphia; and CHOP in West Philadelphia. The testing sites are free.

Along with strict social distancing measures — including the closure of schools and non-essential businesses — the hope is to prevent health systems from becoming overwhelmed.

“You're protecting yourself,” said Farley. “You're protecting your loved ones and you're protecting the entire city of Philadelphia.”

He does, however, stress that only people with symptoms — fever and dry cough — should get tested, as to prevent wasted supplies and false negatives. He said a runny nose and sore throat are not usually symptoms.

Parking Authority now lax on meters, kiosks

The Philadelphia Parking Authority will not be enforcing meters, kiosks or residential parking time limits during the coronavirus crisis.

UPDATE: The Philadelphia Parking Authority WILL NOT be enforcing meters, kiosks or residential parking time limits during the current COVID-19 health emergency. Additional details on parking enforcement and office closures can be found here:

— The PPA (@PhilaParking) March 17, 2020

It will continue to enforce safety violations, such as double parking, parking in a loading zone, and blocking entranceways or crosswalks.

However, at a city briefing, PPA Executive Director Scott Petri asked that drivers still be considerate of their neighbors, and not park in spots all day long near essential locations like grocery stores or medical sites.

“Please be respectful of the need for people to access those spots. Don't think of it as, 'I now own this spot and I'm not moving,' ” he said.

Provisions are effective immediately.

Drivers can still pay tickets online or by phone. For now, PPA is waiving convenience fees for online payments.  

If you were scheduled for a hearing date between now and March 27, it will be rescheduled. 

And, if you’ve used a parking kiosk recently and wondered if they disinfect the touchscreens, Petri has an honest answer: “We do, but not between each touch. So, you should wipe down the kiosk.”

What is considered non-essential?

Mayor Jim Kenney offered more clarity on which businesses should be operating and which should not.

The emergency order specifies closing theaters, clothing-only stores, gyms, tours, bars and entertainment venues. The order is in effect until March 27 but could be extended.

“How long is this going to last? it could be four weeks, it could be eight weeks. We're monitoring the situation and trying to develop models,” he said.

Kenney could not estimate as to how much of a hit the city's economy will take, but he said it will be larger than the city can recover from on its own.

“This is a national issue,” he said. “It's going to have to be nationally addressed — similar to World War II or a depression. They're going to have to step up, the federal, state, and we will also, but we cannot put this entire burden on the city.”

Drive-thru COVID-19 testing soon coming to Montgomery County

With 34 positive cases in Montgomery County, officials say they have received authorization for a drive-thru testing facility, though specifics still need to be ironed out.  

Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh said they expect the site to open next week. The site will not draw resources like masks, gowns or other protective equipment from local or county first responders. 

“The equipment that will be made available to us for the testing at this new site is all coming from other resources. It is not being taken locally,” she explained. 

Before the site opens to the public, they will have a list of those in the “critical workforce,” such as medical workers and first responders, which will be tested there first.

Arkoosh said she understands it’s human nature for people to want to know if they’ve contracted the virus. But if you have a dry cough and fever over 100.4 degrees, assume you have it and self-isolate, since tests are in short supply right now.

To reinforce the need for social distancing, Arkoosh said on Friday, they had 229 people quarantined in the county. Monday morning, that was up to 416. By the afternoon, it went up to 471.

She also said it’s OK to not feel fine right now, as this is emotionally challenging for everyone. 

If possible, she advised residents to reach out to friends and loved ones. And if anyone needs it, the county has a mobile crisis unit at 855-634-4673.

In Delaware County, officials say not a having health department is hurting them 

Delaware County officials say not having their own health department is hurting them when it comes to responding to the coronavirus epidemic, but they are now looking to work with a neighboring county to help them through this crisis.

Officials say they have two new confirmed cases of coronavirus, bringing the county total to nine. 

“We are dependent on the Pennsylvania Department of Health to test, investigate, quarantine, and monitor residents in Delaware County who have or may have COVID-19,” said Delaware County Council chair Brian Zydeck. 

Zydeck said being at the mercy of the state puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to protecting residents against the virus.

“Currently, the county is not given the municipality of any patient who tests positive for COVID-19, we're not given information on the contact tracing for that individual or how many people have been quarantined as a result,” he explained. 

County officials sent a request to Gov. Tom Wolf, asking for permission to let Chester County's department work as their health department when it comes to coronavirus cases.

“Chester County assured the state that they have conducted an analysis of their capacity, and they are confident they are able to serve both counties,” Zydeck said. 

As the county waits for a response from the governor, both counties’ councils will vote on the logistics of their proposal.

With highway rest stops closed, truckers turn elsewhere

PennDOT is advising truckers to patronize privately owned truck stops. 

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has expressed concerns about the closure of highway rest areas, pointing out that amid the coronavirus crisis, truckers are working hard to transport supplies that are needed for grocery stores and hospitals, and the rest areas are vitally important. 

In response, PennDOT said privately owned truck stops are available, and rest areas on the Pennsylvania Turnpike are open for fuel and truck parking only. 

The Turnpike Commission said convenience stores at turnpike plazas are open. And while indoor facilities at plazas are closed, portable restrooms are available.

The agency said it must also consider the ability of contract cleaners to provide adequate staffing to maintain sanitary facilities within rest areas, while limiting the exposure to drivers as well as staff. However, PennDOT added, it is routinely evaluating coronavirus mitigation efforts.

KYW Newsradio's Jim Melwert, Pat Loeb, Mike DeNardo, Rachel Kurland, Justin Udo and Tony Romeo contributed to this report.