Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley reported 583 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in the city on Thursday, though some were just announced from last week, so the trend in Philadelphia remains on a plateau.
But to conform to the governor’s reopening criteria, new cases would have to decrease — all the way down to 50 per day — so the city could contact and test everyone exposed.
“That expanded testing and contact tracing is going to take resources, which we are looking for now,” Farley said. “Clearly there’s an awful lot of labor involved in contacting 50 people a day and then contacting all the people they may have exposed.”
He said contact tracing, in particular, is labor intensive. The city hopes to have volunteers and technology to back up paid staff, but the Mayor Jim Kenney said he’s looking for help with the expense.
“We’re spending a lot of money on our own. Hopefully much of that is reimbursable. We don’t have additional money laying around to be doing things or paying for things that should be paid for by the federal government,” he said.
The city is trying to expand access to testing for residents by working with new sites in under-served areas, but because supplies remain short, the only people permitted for testing are those with symptoms, over the age of 50, or health care workers.
To date, 443 people in Philadelphia have died from COVID-19 — more than half were in long-term care facilities.
Prison worker dies
Kenney also reported that a Department of Prisons worker died from COVID-19.
“This is a heartbreaking reminder that the virus does not discriminate and that it is affecting people in our entire community,” he said.
Kenney gave few details about the city worker, other than the staff member worked as a social work services manager. He said it’s unclear where the worker contracted COVID-19.
Earlier this month, a Philadelphia inmate died from the virus. Currently, at least 59 inmates have the virus. At least 147 inmates have contracted it, in all, though a number of that total have since recovered.
Prison officials have said inmates receive face masks and wipes for their cells, and they are on lockdown to ensure social distancing. Staffers also wear masks and other personal protective equipment. Both staffers and inmates receive temperature checks.
“We are getting reports from people who are on the inside,” said Su Ming Yeh, an attorney with the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP).
PILP, along with ACLU Pennsylvania and others, filed a federal class action suit claiming medically vulnerable inmates could die under current conditions. They argue access to soap and the ability to social-distance are inadequate.
“We really hope the courts can take swift action,” she added.
Since April 7, Philadelphia courts have released nearly 800 low-risk inmates in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
A month at home
Kenney noted that Thursday marks the one-month anniversary since the city’s stay-at-home order first took effect.
“We are certain that the order to close non-essential businesses and to stay at home have helped slow the spread of COVID-19,” he said. “As we mourn the more than 400 Philadelphians who’ve been lost to the virus, we are reminded that, one month in, the threat of the virus is still very much with us — here in Philadelphia and throughout southeastern Pennsylvania.”