Philly expands coronavirus testing recommendations

REUTERS/David Ryder

Philadelphia health officials are expanding coronavirus testing criteria, thanks to an increase in supplies and ramped-up lab capacity.

And, for the first time in weeks, the city logged no COVID-19-related deaths in a day.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley announced Monday that his department is now recommending sites administer tests to anyone experiencing symptoms, regardless of age.

Previously, officials advised that only healthcare workers and people 50 and older with symptoms should be tested.

Priority should still be given to residents and staff at congregate living facilities, such as homeless shelters, police officers, firefighters, paramedics and essential employees, including those who work at grocery stores and pharmacies, Farley said.

Farley said the city has had a lot less trouble purchasing test kits, and labs have said they can handle a much higher number of cases. In addition, companies that make chemical reagents and swabs have been able to boost production, he added.

City officials said Fairmount Primary Care Center, 801 W. Girard Ave., is now testing members of the public. Greater Philadelphia Health Action on Wednesday will open up a site at 2017 W. Hunting Park Ave.

Both sites are appointment-only, and those interested must call ahead. For a full list of testing locations, visit www.phila.gov/COVID-19.

Philadelphia reported 186 new coronavirus cases on Monday, though some labs don’t send in results over the weekend so that number might be artificially low. Farley said there’s still reason for optimism.

“This is now the third day in a row where our daily case count is below 400, and that’s despite the fact that we’re increasing the number of tests that we’re doing,” he said.

The tally of COVID-19-related deaths in the city actually dropped by one, due to an erroneous report, Farley said. Philadelphia’s death toll stands at 726.

A beautiful weekend would normally be a boon for the city and its businesses. However, with the coronavirus still spreading, it has become a concern for officials.

Farley and Mayor Jim Kenney said they weren’t pleased to see groups of people without masks on Saturday and Sunday. The under-30 crowd refuses to cover their faces, the mayor said.

“This all comes down to personal responsibility and maturity,” Kenney said. “These young folks don’t think of their parents or their grandparents or themselves when they do this.”

Masks are required in grocery stores and other essential businesses in Pennsylvania, and Managing Director Brian Abernathy said the city is advising residents to wear them whenever they leave their homes.

Three billboard trucks were deployed by the city over the weekend urging people to stay home. So far, the city has relied on outreach efforts and warnings to enforce social distancing, but officials said they may move to issuing citations if problems persist.

In other coronavirus-related news, city leaders have reached a tentative deal on a one-year contract extension with District Council 33, which represents thousands of municipal employees.

The agreement, meant to avoid protracted negotiations during the pandemic, includes a 2 percent pay raise for all members. Correctional officers and youth detention counselors will receive a 2.5 percent increase.

All four unions representing city workers have now agreed to similar short-term extensions.

Even as some will be getting a raise, it’s “certainly possible and probably likely” that members of District Councils 33 and 47 will be laid off, particularly part-time and temporary employees, Abernathy said.

Hundreds of municipal workers are set to be let go under Kenney’s proposed budget. No one has been officially laid off yet, but conversations have started within departments, Abernathy said.

SEPTA, meanwhile, is making additional changes to its schedules starting May 10 to accommodate a project to rebuild rail infrastructure in University City. The affected area carries the Media/Elwyn Line and also supports the Wilmington/Newark and Airport lines.

Service on the Media/Elwyn Line will be suspended until May 31, and the Airport Line will be converted into a shuttle service, with buses running between the 30th Street, Eastwick and Airport stations.

The Wilmington/Newark Line, which was shut down April 9 as part of a special “Lifeline Service Schedule,” will resume service between 30th Street and Wilmington.

In addition, no trains will stop at Penn Medicine Station, and SEPTA will run a bus route to and from 30th Street for people who need to get to Penn Medicine.

The work is expected to last until May 30. For more information, visit www.septa.org.

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