Shutdown frustrations mount throughout Philly

Demonstrators gather to protest against the state's extended stay-at-home order in Harrisburg on April 20. A similar protest is planned in Philadelphia on Friday to call on elected officials to reopen the city.
REUTERS

As two dozen Pennsylvania counties prepare to begin reopening on Friday, the timeline for Philadelphia’s recovery from the novel coronavirus remains unclear, and frustrations appear to be mounting.

Protesters plan to gather Friday at City Hall to call on elected officials to reopen the city, mimicking other demonstrations in various state capitals, including Harrisburg.

“We’re aware of it. I don’t know how big it’s going to be,” Mayor Jim Kenney said Wednesday. “We will treat it like we treat all demonstrations, with respect to the first amendment and making sure that everyone remains safe.”

It’s expected most will protest from their cars. About 30 people have indicated on Facebook that they are going to the event and an associated group has nearly 600 members. The rally is scheduled to start at noon.

Kenney urged demonstrators to wear masks and said the city will ease coronavirus-related restrictions based on the advice of Health Commissioner Thomas Farley and other medical experts.

He also criticized former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who told CNN recently the country should push to reopen and that lives would have to be sacrificed. Kenney called the comments “appalling.”

“There’s no such thing as collateral lives,” the mayor said. “They’re all human beings. They’re all part of our country, state and city, and we’re not going to sacrifice anybody intentionally.”

Philadelphia’s COVID-19-related death toll surpassed 800 Tuesday, with an additional 60 fatalities reported. Officials said there were 287 new confirmed cases, bringing the city’s total to 16,697.

Farley said he understands why the uncertainty around reopening is difficult for people but added that he can’t predict how the infection will spread in the future.

“We’re still learning about this virus,” he said. “The virus has more surprises in store for us. We’re just going to have to see how it goes.”

“I can say, though, that right now we are clearly moving in the right direction,” Farley added. “Our actions are very much slowing the spread of this virus. Our actions are very much saving lives.”

He and Kenney urged residents to continue staying home and wearing masks outside.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced last week that 24 counties in the northwest and north-central parts of the state would move to the “yellow phase” in the state’s recovery plan, allowing some businesses to reopen under certain guidelines.

However, many businesses, including barber shops, salons, gyms, casinos and theaters, will still be closed. Restaurants and bars will also still be limited to take-out and delivery.

State officials said they used a tool developed with Carnegie Mellon University that looks at cases, hospital bed capacity, population density and other factors in determining which areas would be allowed to move to the less-restricted phase.

Pennsylvania on Tuesday reported 888 new coronavirus cases and 94 deaths. So far, 51,845 people have tested positive statewide, and 3,106 have died.

The northwest and north-central sections of the state have registered a combined 1,083 cases, and some counties slated to start easing restrictions Friday have reported single-digit case counts and no virus-related deaths.

Kenney said the city is in constant communication with Wolf’s office and leaders in suburban counties about a regional approach to reopening.

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