Philadelphia’s top health official is urging vaccine providers to prioritize seniors amid a surge in new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.
Daily case rates in the city have almost doubled over the past two weeks, and the number of COVID-19 patients in local hospitals has risen from around 200 earlier this month to 429.
“This is a sign that this rise in infection is hitting not just people who are young, but also vulnerable people,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Tuesday.
“My message to Philadelphia residents today is if you’re over 65 and not vaccinated yet, sign up now and get vaccinated as soon as possible,” he added. “Don’t delay.”
People ages 65 and up have accounted for 80% of Philadelphia’s 3,259 virus-related deaths, Farley said.
Just over half of city residents between the ages of 65 and 74 have been at least partially vaccinated, and 72% of those 75 and older have received a shot, according to health department data.
Farley said officials are directing hospitals and other providers to prioritize seniors. That can be done by fast-tracking people in that age group, offering special walk-in appointments or conducting additional outreach, he added.
Philadelphia will move to Phase 1C, which includes essential workers not covered in earlier eligibility groups, sometime in April and all adults will be able to sign up for a vaccine no later than May 1, Farley said.
President Joe Biden has said 90% of American adults will be eligible by April 19; Farley, however, expressed concern that moving too fast could leave the elderly behind.
Last week, Philadelphia averaged 488 new cases a day with a 6.8% positive test rate, compared to the prior week’s 427 daily infections and 6.3%.
On Tuesday, the city reported 477 confirmed cases, 236 probable infections and eight coronavirus-related deaths.
“If our case rates continue to rise and our hospitalizations continue to rise and our death rates continue to rise, we may have to reimpose restrictions to save lives and to protect our hospitals from being overwhelmed,” Farley said.
He said the rising case numbers are likely the result of the increasing infiltration of COVID-19 variants combined with pandemic fatigue causing people to abandon virus precautions.
A new Penn Medicine analysis of patients in southeastern Pennsylvania found that a third had been infected with troubling virus strains. Most had the B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the United Kingdom and is believed to be more contagious.
The Penn researchers tested 80 samples from people who caught the virus in late February and early March.
More than 360,000 city residents, or nearly 23% of the population, have received at least one dose of the vaccine. For the week that ended Sunday, 111,000 doses were distributed in Philadelphia, an all-time high, Farley said.
The goal is to get to 150,000 a week by the end of April, he added.
Part of that strategy will be the opening of a new federally-backed inoculation site at Esperanza, located at 5th Street and Hunting Park Avenue in North Philadelphia.
Farley said the vaccination center is expected to open late next week or early the following week, and federal officials have said it will inoculate 1,500 to 2,500 people a day. It will be staffed in large part by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. National Guard.
Unlike the larger FEMA site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the shots distributed at Esperanza will be drawn from the city’s weekly vaccine allocation.
City leaders have asked the Biden administration to extend FEMA’s stay at the Convention Center past late April and are waiting for a response.
Philadelphians who wants to get vaccinated against COVID-19 can register at phila.gov/vaccineinterest or call 311.