Philly to test entire prison population for COVID-19

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia will test its entire prison population for COVID-19, now that test kits are easier to get ahold of, officials announced Tuesday.

As testing has become more available, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health has recommended wider testing in congregate facilities, like jails, which have been hotspots for the virus. 

Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley said it could help improve the prison system’s response to the virus, though that’s already been largely successful.

“A month ago, there were 10 cases a day, whereas we’ve seen perhaps two cases in the past 10 days, so the test is valuable,” he explained, “but what’s more valuable are the steps they take to prevent the spread from one inmate to another or inmate to staff, and those steps the prison has been taking (are) working.”

When tests were harder to get, only symptomatic inmates were tested. The city detected a total of 197 cases, one of which was fatal.

When Montgomery County conducted prison-wide testing last month, it found 177 cases among its 948 inmates — a rate of 18%, or 30 times more than it had identified previously.

“This is an opportunity to see if we are missing a substantial number of cases that should be isolated that we’re not already isolating,” Farley added.

All 3,800 inmates — symptomatic or not — will be tested. Those who test positive will be moved to an isolated space for 14 days.

Youth at the Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Services Center will also be tested.

Prison-wide testing starts Wednesday and is expected to take up to two weeks. 

Despite wider testing, the number of new cases citywide continues on the downswing. The city reported 179 new cases Tuesday, along with nine new deaths. The number of fatalities continues to decrease as well. 

Since the start of the pandemic in March, Philadelphia has seen 20,132 cases and 1,049 deaths.

There’s still no firm date for reopening the city, but officials encourage residents to get used to wearing masks for the foreseeable future.


For city resources regarding COVID-19, visit or call the Greater Philadelphia Coronavirus Helpline at 1-800-722-7112.