Three in four Philadelphians wearing masks, data finds

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Philadelphians are increasingly wearing masks in public places, according to data released by the city Thursday.

Epidemiologists are reviewing camera footage from retail stores and SEPTA stations to count the number of people with facial coverings. About 76 percent did use masks during the week that ended Sunday, compared to about 55 percent in early June, the report indicates.

“Most residents are doing the right thing, but not quite enough,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said. “We’d love to have that at at least 80 percent. I’d love to have it be at 90 percent.”

Farley and Mayor Jim Kenney have been championing mask-wearing for months, and the city has deployed an extensive public awareness campaign.

To gather the data, employees have not been tracking specific individuals, just recording numbers from people in view of the camera, officials said.

Philadelphia reported 136 new cases of the novel coronavirus Thursday and 11 additional fatalities, bringing the pandemic’s toll in the city to 1,691.

The city’s seven-day average for daily cases stands at 165, compared to 141 last week and 111 for the prior week.

Turnaround delays continue to complicate matters for experts trying to track the pandemic. People whose COVID-19 tests are processed at national laboratories are still having to wait “unacceptably long” for their results, Farley added.

Officials said they are working to partner Penn Medicine, Jefferson Health and Temple Health with nursing homes in the city. The university health systems will aid facilities in testing, infection control and other procedures, Farley said.

Nursing homes have yet to be significantly impacted by Philadelphia’s uptick in cases, but Farley said he remains “very concerned” about the facilities, which account for about half of the city’s virus-related deaths.

Nationally, the pandemic is just starting to wane, Farley said, with cases dipping in Arizona, Texas and Florida, states that have been hit hard by the second wave of the virus.

“I’m hopeful that that downward trend will go north in the same way that the increasing trend in the past came north and affected us,” he said.

City leaders announced Tuesday that indoor dining would not be allowed to begin until at least Sept. 1. Earlier guidance indicated that restaurants may be able open indoor seating as early as Aug. 1.

Farley apologized to restaurant owners for the short notice and said the city would decide by Aug. 21 whether to allow indoor dining at the beginning of September. It would likely require a significant drop in case counts, he said.

Meanwhile, Kenney’s administration is in the process of hiring 120 temporary workers to help the Streets Department catch up on trash collection. The highly-publicized backlog has infuriated some residents.

In other news, city-run Pre-K centers will have an in-person reopening, officials said Thursday.

Parents can enroll 3-and-4-year-olds in the free program, which is funded by the soda tax, at one of 134 locations across the city.

“We just can’t allow the pandemic to take safe, quality learning experiences away from our children, especially at the most critical stage of their development,” Kenney said during a virtual press briefing.

Preschools run by the School District of Philadelphia will start the year virtually, in line with classes for older students.

Farley said the district’s decision was based on the concerns of teachers, not advice from the health department. In addition, pre-K centers typically have far fewer kids than a school, he added.

All pre-K providers will be required to follow mask-wearing, social distancing, enhanced cleaning and other health guidelines, the city said.

Classes will start in late August and early September and about half of the 3,300 PHL Pre-K seats remain open.

For more information, visit PHLpreK.org or call 844-745-7735.

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