Welcome America going virtual

METRO FILE PHOTO

Philadelphia’s annual Fourth of July celebration will return this year with a virtual concert and possibly no fireworks, officials said Tuesday.

Wawa Welcome America, a multi-day festival entering its 28th year, will feature no in-person events, a result of social distancing guidelines and restrictions expected to last well into the summer.

“There’s nothing worse than taking 200,000 people in July in the middle of a pandemic and putting them together on the Parkway so they can breathe on each other,” Mayor Jim Kenney said.

A decision has not yet been made about a firework show. It’s also unclear whether any of the city’s historic sites, such as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, will be open, even in a limited capacity.

“I have my idea on fireworks, but it’s not ripe enough to be announced yet,” Kenney said. “There will not be an outdoor location for people to gather.”

The concert will take place indoors and will not be accessible to the public. It will be broadcasted July 4 on NBC10. Festival representatives said they are not ready to release a lineup.

PHOTO: HughE Dillon

Last year, Jennifer Hudson and Meghan Trainor performed alongside the Philly Pops in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Michael DelBene, president and CEO of the nonprofit Welcome America Inc., said the organization is still in the planning process and would release more details at a June 10 news conference.

City leaders, meanwhile, reported 224 new COVID-19 cases and 15 additional fatalities, though Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said labs returned a lower-than-expected number of results.

So far, 18,537 people have tested positive for the virus in the city, and 908 have died. Statewide, there have been nearly 58,000 cases and 3,806 deaths.

For the first time, city officials released numbers tracking the spread of the virus in long-term care facilities. Following a spike in mid-April that included 146 cases in a single day, numbers of new infections have dipped and have not surpassed 73 a day this month.

“The epidemic hasn’t ended in nursing homes, but we’re clearly making progress,” Farley said.

Nursing home residents make up a fraction of the total number of cases in the city but account for 53 percent of COVID-19-related deaths.

City leaders put out a request for proposal Tuesday in search of organizations that can expand testing in hard-to-reach populations and underserved communities.

The hope is to establish a number of community testing programs; however, funding for the programs has yet to be secured. Farley said the health department is banking on federal dollars to support the initiative.

In other coronavirus-related news, SEPTA announced Tuesday that it is delaying proposed fare increases until at least Jan. 1 in an effort to help riders struggling during the pandemic.

The transit agency is also planning to implement other changes on July 1 if approved by SEPTA’s board next month. Those would include one free transfer for Key Card users and a reduction in fares for children between ages 5 and 11.

SEPTA has proposed raising Key Card fares from $2 to $2.50 per ride, which is in line with riders who pay cash.

Virtual hearings on the restructuring plan and the transit agency’s budget are scheduled later this month.

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