Philadelphia coronavirus cases exceed 10K, but officials are hopeful

UPDATED: 6:25 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia officials sounded hopeful Tuesday, even as the city passed the milestone of 10,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus. 

Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley reported 475 new cases of COVID-19, but, he said, that follows the trend that the spread of the infection is levelling off.

“The fact that we’re more or less level over the past week is good. That means the increases we’ve seen in previous weeks have stopped. By the end of the week, I hope to say if we are seeing decreases,” he said.

Another good sign: Farley said 31% of the region’s hospital beds remain available, though some hospitals have hit capacity and staff shortages — particularly among ICU nurses. That has prompted transfers to less burdened hospitals and a few to surge space at Temple University’s Liacouras Center.

Similarly, the number of deaths from the virus seems to be hitting a plateau, with 24 new fatalities reported. The death toll now stands at 394. 

April 21, 2020 @PhiladelphiaGov COVID-19 update:475 new cases10,028 total cases24 new deaths394 total deathsFor more information: https://t.co/f9BNUvQiUu pic.twitter.com/13S0gnrck5

— Philadelphia Public Health (@PHLPublicHealth) April 21, 2020

Farley anticipates that number to continue to grow, but the leveling off is a sign that social distancing is working.

“We just need to keep that up,” he added. “Preventing transmission from one person to another is the tool we’re using right now. We wish we had more tools, but that’s what we’re stuck with.”

‘Unacceptable’ transport of bodies

Mayor Jim Kenney addressed photos from The Philadelphia Inquirer showing showing bodies from Einstein Medical Center being dropped at the Medical Examiner’s Office in the open back of a pickup truck. 

He said that’s unacceptable.

“When we talked about fatality management, one of the things I said to all the people running our departments is I want people to be treated with dignity. They are human beings, they’re family members of people, and that is unconscionable what happened,” he said.

The photos show the delivery of five or six bodies enclosed in white body bags and covered by mats in the back of the pickup truck Sunday afternoon. 

The bodies were transferred to the facility where the city has secured several refrigerated trailers to help with an increased need for body storage from hospitals and private funeral homes. 

Kenney said the medical examiner had a stern talk with Einstein and warned it should not happen again.

In a statement from Einstein Healthcare Network, a spokesperson said, "Einstein is working with the Medical Examiner's Office to understand all details. At the conclusion of our own investigation into this matter, there will be swift and corrective action. While the COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented health care challenges, all patients should be treated with respect and dignity at every stage and this should never happen. We understand and feel for those family members and loved ones who've experienced pain during this difficult time."

Ramadan cancellations  

Ramadan begins on Friday, and city officials are continuing to urge religious groups not to congregate in large settings.

As a result, the annual Philly Eid in the Park Festival — the city’s largest Eid festival — has been canceled. 

The organization will offer an alternative experience through its new Eid Al-Fitr Meals on Wheels & Family Fun program. On May 30, the Philadelphia Ramadan and Eid Fund will provide 100 families with dinner. Registration will open on Friday.

Student meals

The distribution of free meals for Philadelphia school children is being reduced to just one day a week, but officials stress the same amount of food will be given out.

Managing Director Brian Abernathy said the new schedule of Thursday-only meal pick-up is more efficient in two ways.

“Being able to pack up one box instead of two, and also allowing people to come out of their homes to pick up those boxes once, rather than twice,” he said.

The boxes will contain 10 meals for the week. They’ll be available at 49 sites, from 9 a.m. until noon, on Thursdays.

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NOTE: An earlier version of this story misidentified the driver pictured in The Philadelphia Inquirer photo of bodies from Einstein Medical Center being dropped off at the Medical Examiner's Office. The bodies were transported by workers from a private funeral home. Einstein tells KYW Newsradio it has ended its relationship with the funeral home after an investigation into the incident.

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For more resources regarding COVID-19, visit phila.gov/covid-19 or call the Greater Philadelphia Coronavirus Helpline at 1-800-722-7112.

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KYW Newsradio’s Rachel Kurland, as well as the Associated Press, contributed to this report.