COVID-19 cases rise as Philly prepares first quarantine center

Managing Director Brian Abernathy said recent demonstrations throughout the city have delayed the release of outdoor dining guidelines. Outdoor dining, which is permitted under the state’s Yellow Phase, will not be allowed until next Friday in Philadelphia. 
PHOTO: MELISSA MITMAN

Officials are planning to turn a Center City hotel into a quarantine site for homeless people and others infected with the COVID-19 virus as the number of cases in Philadelphia now tops 250.

The Holiday Inn Express on Walnut Street near 13th Street is set to become the city’s first quarantine facility.

City Managing Director Brian Abernathy said Tuesday the city is leasing the building, which will be used to isolate homeless people and others who cannot safely quarantine at home, including domestic violence victims and those who live with people who have compromised immune systems.

A vast majority of residents exposed to the coronavirus would still be asked to self-quarantine. Officials did not say when the Holiday Inn site would open.

Meanwhile, city leaders are frustrated over talks involving another potential quarantine site, Hahnemann University Hospital, which was controversially closed last year.

Abernathy said negotiations have been challenging, and Mayor Jim Kenney accused the building’s owner, Joel Freedman, of “jacking up” his asking price in an attempt to profit off the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re continuing to try to negotiate and find a path forward,” Abernathy said.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley reported 77 new coronavirus cases, bringing the city’s total to 252. Twenty-three people are hospitalized with the virus, and, of those infected, 25 are healthcare workers.

In Pennsylvania, 851 people have tested positive, and seven COVID-19 patients have died.

Farley recommended testing only for those who have symptoms and are healthcare workers or 50 and older due to a shortage of test kits and strained lab capacity.

The testing site set up by the city outside Citizens Bank Park will be closed Wednesday due to the weather forecast and is expected to be open from 1 to 6 p.m. on Thursday.

Kenney, during his daily press briefing, lashed out at President Donald Trump for suggesting that the restrictions could be worse than the virus and that the country could be ready to reopen by Easter.

“He is insinuating that economic loss and change of lifestyle are more damaging than the deaths of countless Americans,” Kenney said. “This is clearly unacceptable.”

“I want to be clear: Philadelphia will continue to do what is best for our residents,” he added.

There have been no signs of the virus letting up in Philadelphia, officials said. Farley said there are more untested people with the virus than positive test results.

“The overall trend is increasing rapidly and expect that to continue to do so for at least the next week or so,” he said.

He also re-emphasized the importance of social distancing, or staying at least 6 feet away from other people. If a majority of people follow the recommendations, the outbreak could potentially begin to slow down in two-to-four weeks, Farley said.

Kenney vowed to continue following guidance from his advisors and others in the healthcare community.

“I’m going to listen to Dr. Farley. I’m going to listen to the medical community in Philadelphia and the region,” he said. “They’re the experts, not the president.”

The mayor also urged Congress to hammer out a plan to provide relief funding to municipalities. Kenney and more than 300 other mayors are calling on the federal government to send $250 billion directly to cities.

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