As cases rise, Philadelphia residents 65+ urged to get vaccine right away

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The race to vaccinate Philadelphia residents hasn't slowed down, but the coronavirus spread is speeding up due to new COVID-19 variants, according to city health officials.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said the infection and hospitalization rates are rising and the city is starting to look like it did a year ago.

"We hit a low back on March 7th of 203 people with this infection in our hospitals citywide, but with the increase in case rates that number has been rising since. Yesterday it was 429, so it more than doubled," said Farley.

Farley said a top priority is to vaccinate residents 65 and older to prevent unnecessary death. Temple University will open its own vaccine clinic on Wednesday.

"We're going to be doing vaccines twice a week. The first day is for Temple students, faculty and staff who meet the city's 1B or 1A criteria and also residents of the city," said Mark Denys, Temple University Health Services Senior Director. "The second day is for non-Temple affiliated folks."

RELATED: Penn researchers tracking 'alarming' spread of COVID-19 variants in Philly area
EMBED More News Videos

Researchers said the variants are believed to be contributing to a recent spike of positive COVID-19 cases.

Philadelphia is still in phase 1B, which includes frontline essential workers, people ages 65 and up and those with high risk medical conditions or living in congregate care facilities.

President Joe Biden said he wants all adults to be eligible for the vaccine by April 19. City health officials say it's not possible due to limited vaccine supply.

"We will open it up to all adults no later than May 1, it's possible it will go earlier than that," said Farley. "Right now, I'm really concerned with this epidemic wave so I just want to make sure that people over the age of 65 to get vaccinated."

Next week, the city is set to open up a second FEMA vaccination site at Esperanza Academy High School in Franklinville. The entrance will be at 5th Street and Hunting Park Avenue. There is no official date announced.

Officials said the second FEMA site is in an area with the least amount of vaccinated city residents.

He noted that the rise is not just happening in Philadelphia, but all around our region - especially New Jersey and New York.

"So the epidemic appears to be returning to where it began a year ago," Farley said.

Farley cited a study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine that 30% of their tests on coronavirus isolates found "variants of concern." Many of those were the variant that first emerged in the United Kingdom.

That variant is thought to be more easily spread, but it does not appear to cause a more serious infection and it can be prevented by the vaccine.

Farley said it was unclear if the spread of this variant was a cause or effect of the rise in cases, but he said it was clear there is a "new wave of the epidemic across the United States."

"This virus has and will continue to surprise us," he said.

Farley said the city's data shows 509,000 residents have had at least one dose of the two-dose shots, and another 241,000 people are considered to be fully vaccinated.

He said that number could be higher since it does not include residents who were vaccinated outside the city.

Philadelphia residents are asked to fill out the vaccine interest form at the City of Philadelphia's website.
Copyright © 2021 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.