Philly may be entering 'dangerous period' with COVID: Dr. Farley

"Everyone is tired of this virus, unfortunately the virus is not tired of us," Farley said.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Philly may be entering 'dangerous period' with COVID: Dr. Farley
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Philadelphia may be entering a "dangerous period" in the COVID-19 pandemic, according to health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Philadelphia may be entering a "dangerous period" in the COVID-19 pandemic, according to health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley.

The city's health leader said Tuesday, like most of the country, the case rates in Philly have been rising.

For the past week, the city averaged 189 cases per day, though that data is incomplete at this time. The previous week, the city averaged 184 cases per day. These are the highest weekly averages in the city since mid-May, Farley said.

While more tests are being conducted, the percentage of positive tests has also been increasing.

"I hope we're not heading back to a second lockdown," said Scott Guzielek.

"I feel like it's really confusing. Like, hey let's open the Eagles stadium, but people are coming down with corona," added Gailen Dougherty.

The percent positive was 4.8% last week and 5.1% the week prior. For comparison, the city was at 2.8% positive in mid-September. In mid-July, the city was 5.5% positive during a peak and 9.5% positive in late May.

Farley said spread is occurring in every zip code in the city.

"There is no neighborhood that has not seen an increase in recent days," Farley said.

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From case interviews as part of the city's contact tracing, Farley said the spread is occurring within households and social gatherings (family gatherings, people visiting each other's houses, weddings).

Recently, case interviews have also shown people were working in offices during the time period they were exposed. Farley said 17% of the cases being interviewed reported being at an office last week, compared to 7% to 9% in previous weeks.

Farley said there were some cases where it appeared the spread occurred when coworkers grabbed lunch together at the workplace.

Farley said it appears COVID-19 is following the pattern of other respiratory viruses like influenza; these viruses tend to get more common throughout the fall, he said, and peak between January or February.

"If COVID follows that pattern, we're going to be having a difficult time over the next three to four months," Farley said.

He said the rise of cases could be due a number of reasons including colder weather, drier air, people moving inside due to the colder weather, or people becoming more complacent and having COVID fatigue.

Philadelphia confirmed 268 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the city to a total of 40,704. There 8 new deaths identified, bringing the total 1,849.

Farley said the city has not been seeing an increase in deaths, but the data lags behind cases. He expects there will be more deaths associated with the increase of cases.

Despite the increase, he said there were no plans to order a shutdown similar to what was in place in the spring.

Nursing Homes and Schools

Nursing homes have also seen more cases. For those specific congregate settings, Farley said the city has formed the COVID Relief Unit.

The unit will assist nursing home patients who have tested positive for coronavirus, but need to be taken out of their nursing home if the facility can't properly take care of them or separate them from others.

These patients will be transferred to the unit. Farley said he did not want to elaborate any further on where the unit is located, but said it is an unused floor of a nursing home in the city.

Farley said 44 school sites have seen positive cases in either students or staff, mostly isolated. Twenty-six of those sites saw quarantines being carried out, as in one classroom being shut down and the spread stopped.

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There has been, however, one school cluster where information suggests there was spread within a classroom - the Philadelphia School. Farley said there have been 15 cases so far at the school.

In the all other situations, Farley said there was no clear evidence that spread is occurring in classrooms.

Farley insisted Philadelphia public schools should still plan to open late next month as long as strict safety precautions are followed.

Farley said contact tracers haven't identified significant spread among those who reported dining at at restaurant. He emphasized dining outside or inside a restaurant is a high risk activity especially if you eat at the same table with people outside your household.

What Philadelphians Can Do

"Everyone is tired of this virus, unfortunately the virus is not tired of us," Farley said.

He said Philly residents still need to wear masks, keep distance from others, and work from home when possible.

In Queen Village, at Cry Baby Pasta, owner Bridget Foy says with their outdoor space winterized, they're ready for whatever may come at this point.

"We've pivoted the business many times throughout this already. We've loaded up on space heaters and made it as appealing as possible," she said.

The city has been tracking mask use through surveillance cameras.

For the week of Oct. 11, Farley said 80% of people seen leaving retail stores were wearing masks. He said that means 20% of people were not - and that is enough to spread the coronavirus.

Farley said people need to wear a mask until enough are vaccinated that the virus has trouble finding anyone who doesn't already have antibodies.

Farley repeated Mayor Jim Kenney's phrasing from the spring that this is "a virus that hunts humans."

"The reality is," Farley said, "it's still hunting."