Philadelphia passed a grim milestone in its battle with the novel coronavirus Thursday, even as indicators continue to show the outbreak is weakening.
Officials reported 22 new deaths, meaning that more than 1,000 city residents have now died as a result of complications from COVID-19.
“I wanted to extend my condolences to all the many family members and friends of those who lost their lives to this terrible virus,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. “Crossing the threshold of a thousand deaths is a stark reminder of the need to stay vigilant about social distancing practices.”
More than half of the 1,008 total deaths occurred in nursing homes. Nearly a quarter of all virus-related fatalities in Pennsylvania have been reported in Philadelphia.
“If there’s any consolation, the number of new deaths is clearly downward,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said. “We’re clearly making progress, and it is absolutely clear that if we had not taken the steps we’re taking now, deaths would have been far, far higher.”
Farley cited a study by the Drexel University Urban Health Collaborative, which, using a model provided by the New York Times, shows that the city’s stay-at-home order has prevented about 6,200 deaths and 57,000 hospitalizations.
City leaders reported 314 additional COVID-19 cases Thursday, bringing the city’s total count to 19,093 since the start of the pandemic.
Farley said it appears the virus’s decline is accelerating. Not long ago, officials were routinely reporting 500 to 600 new cases a day.
Kenney also announced the formation of the city’s COVID-19 Recovery Office, which will focus on securing federal and state reimbursements and grants. It will also make sure funding is going where it’s needed most, he said.
“This is a large undertaking, involving hundreds of millions, billions of dollars,” Kenney said. “We’re going to need all hands and eyes on deck, in addition to some outside professional support.”
Managing Director Brian Abernathy said there will be no new hires; however, the city will be contracting with a consultant. The new office is being led by Deputy Finance Director Sarah de Wolf and Deputy Managing Director Chris Rupe.
Kenney, as he has previously, called on Congress to devote additional aid to cities. Philadelphia received about $276 million in funding from the CARES Act to cover virus-related costs.
More than $500 million in federal aid is flowing into Pennsylvania from the U.S. Department of Education to support schools, Gov. Tom Wolf’s office said.
School systems can use the money for a wide variety of purposes. Preliminary figures show that $116.5 million is earmarked for the School District of Philadelphia.
Protestors angry with Wolf’s approach to reopening the state plan to gather Friday at noon on the steps of the capitol building in Harrisburg. An earlier demonstration by the same group, ReOpen PA, was held April 20.
In other coronavirus-related news, the Philadelphia Police Department has postponed its Living Flame Memorial service, which salutes officers and firefighters who have died in the line of duty. The ceremony is typically held during National Police Week, which ends Saturday.