There was good news on a stormy day.
Officials on Tuesday noted a “very real decrease” in COVID-19 case counts in Philadelphia and the surrounding area but cautioned that they are not yet sure if the drop will be permanent.
In the past week, the city averaged 123 cases a day, below last week’s 166 and the prior week’s 141. There were 106 new infections reported Tuesday. The positive test rate is 4.7 percent, the lowest weekly number since the start of the pandemic.
“The reason for that fall is really unclear at this point,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said. “I can only say that maybe people are finally coming around to accept the idea that they need to wear masks.”
Three additional coronavirus-related fatalities were recorded Tuesday, raising the city’s death toll to 1,695. Farley said Philadelphia is averaging about one death per day, down about 97 percent compared to the pandemic’s mid-April peak.
Delays in test results, which have frustrated Farley and other health experts, are improving. LabCorp brought its turnaround time from seven to two days, but lags continue at Quest Diagnostics and other smaller labs, Farley said.
Last week, health department contact tracers reached out to 611 people who tested positive for the coronavirus. About 64 percent answered, up from 55 percent the prior week, officials said.
A third of those who were reached said they did not have any close contacts or could not remember them. For those that did, tracers were able to get in touch with about 70 percent of contacts.
Meanwhile, the pandemic continues to take its toll on the city’s waste collection. Trash pick-up is back to normal, officials said, but residents who normally put out their recycling on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays have been told to wait until next week.
“There still may be delays as the department continues to balance increased tonnage and staff shortages,” Mayor Jim Kenney said Tuesday.
The mayor acknowledged that the sanitation department has been hit hard by the virus. More than 100 workers have tested positive.
Managing Director Brian Abernathy said more than 100 trash collectors call out on a daily basis. Kenney’s administration is working to hire about 120 people from a city waitlist for laborer positions to supplement crews for at least six months.
“It’s a hard job and hard conditions dealing with lots of stuff we wouldn’t want to deal with on a regular basis,” Kenney said.
In addition to staffing shortages, crews have had to handle an increased workload. Curbside tonnage has skyrocketed with many more people at home due to the pandemic.
The Department of Streets recently put out a list of 10 tips for residents who want to help sanitation workers and get rid of the backlog.
Among the recommendations: For food waste, use a sink disposal, consider composting or freezing until collection day to cut down on odors and pests. Set out no more than eight bags or four bins to the curb. Make sure bags weigh less than 40 pounds. Place trash in sturdy bags in containers with lids and holes in the bottom so water does not pool. Position bins so handles are turned toward the street.