Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the federal government has come up short fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, as the United States passed 200,000 virus-related deaths on Tuesday.
He lamented that mask wearing has become a political issue and urged officials in Washington, D.C., to make it clear to the public that the pandemic is not over.
“I do think that the national leadership on this epidemic has been lacking,” Farley said. “I think that they have not been leaders, and their messages have been mixed. That has really harmed our response in the county, and many people have died as a result of it.”
Two additional deaths were added Tuesday to Philadelphia’s toll, which now stands at 1,787.
Mayor Jim Kenney said during a Tuesday afternoon press conference that he is quarantining at home after being exposed to someone with the virus last week.
He was tested Monday, and the results came back negative. However, he plans to self-quarantine for 14 days and get another test next week.
No other municipal officials were affected, Kenney said. He did not disclose who exposed him to the virus.
“The virus is still here, and we must remain vigilant,” Kenney said. “So if you find yourself in a similar situation, exposed to someone who tests positive, do the right thing and self-quarantine and get yourself tested.”
The mayor said he is still able to complete his duties at home, and that any documents he needs to sign are pushed under his door.
Officials reported 76 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday in the city.
“Our daily case counts have been steady in the past week, which is generally good news because we were at new lows last week,” Farley said.
For the week that just ended, Philadelphia averaged 80 cases a day, and the positive test rate was 2.5%. About half of the new cases occurred in people between the ages of 10 and 29, likely due to outbreaks at colleges around the country, Farley said.
Though most K-12 schools in the city are still operating virtually, those that have opened have not had significant spread of the virus, he said.
Contact tracing interviews conducted by the health department indicate that people are more likely to catch the virus from a member of their household or by attending small gatherings or visiting family and friends, Farley said.
“Workplaces are not a common source of exposure,” he added. “People are for the most part being exposed by their relatives or by their friends.”
The health commissioner said a decision will come next week on whether Philadelphia restaurants can expand indoor dining at some point next month.
Eateries in other parts of Pennsylvania are allowed to open at 50% capacity. Indoor dining didn’t start in the city until Sept. 8 and has remained limited at 25%.
Farley said officials have not noted a spike in cases related to indoor dining, though he has no plans to sit inside at a restaurant, and he hasn’t even taken advantage of outdoor seating.
“The risk is not worth the benefit,” Farley said. “I can get great food from takeout or preparing it at home.”
In other news, city officials announced Tuesday that a new website will launch Oct. 1 with real-time information about trash and recycling pick-up.
Over the summer, collection was delayed significantly due to staffing shortages, increased curbside tonnage and severe weather, much to the consternation of residents.
“Collections have been on schedule for the past few few weeks, and we plan to keep it that way,” Kenney said.
The site will allow users to see whether a trash or recycling truck has visited their block. It uses GPS technology to track all the crews operating the city and includes a color-coded map showing the collection days for each area.
“This was very difficult for us to communicate without this tool because in certain parts of the city we may have been on time, and in other parts we may have been experiencing delays,” Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams said.
Updates about delays will be displayed next to the map, which will be updated every 30 to 60 minutes, officials said.
When it goes live, the website will be available at www.StreetSmartphl.phila.gov.