Philly officials say coronavirus response unfazed by closure of ballpark test site

KYW Staff
April 10, 2020 - 10:52 am

UPDATED: 4:15 p.m. 

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Citizens Bank Park coronavirus testing site was set to close at the end of the day, but due to winds and tents being down, the site closed earlier Friday. 

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The South Philadelphia drive-thru site was one of 40 around the country backed by FEMA that popped up when the pandemic response started to ramp up.

Now, FEMA is trying to back off where possible and give states and local governments control of how to handle sites.

City officials say if it were necessary to keep the ballpark site open, they would. But Health Commissioner Tom Farley said only 7% of the testing in the city happened there, and being outdoors, it has to close whenever the weather is bad.

Farley says closing it down can give a boost to other spots in the city.

"We can redistribute the resources that they’re using, including the test kits, to the other sites. So, we think we can handle the closure pretty well and may actually get more tests for the same amount of resources," Farley said.

City officials say the kits and personnel will go to sites where there’s more need, as in North and West Philly. They also say they would rather get more rapid testing supplies from the feds since they have to wait five or six days to get results from the ballpark tests.

Liacouras Center almost ready to go

The surge hospital space at Temple University's Liacouras Center is almost ready to go. Public officials got a tour of the transformation Friday, and it should be able to begin accepting patients by Thursday. 

Sandra Gomberg is the CEO of the quickly assembled 180-bed facility. She hopes it won’t be needed, but if it is, it will provide top-notch care. 

“We feel the pain that patients feel in their hospital beds having been isolated from their families, and we know what that means when they're coming to another facility to be yet isolated again. So we have made extraordinary efforts to keep them safe and to attend to their needs,” she said. 

Hospitals in the Philadelphia area are still reporting plenty of capacity. 

City officials say they haven’t calculated the costs of the facility yet, but they hope much of it will be reimbursed by the federal government.

Cases in the city 

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health Friday announced an additional 522 positive coronavirus cases, bringing the city total to 5,793. Officials also announced 35 additional coronavirus-related deaths, the highest daily death toll the city has seen so far, bringing the total to 137. 

Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley says 67 of the 137 deaths were in long-term care facility residents, and 89 of the 137 deaths were people over 70.

“The increase we saw in cases in the last week or two is following up now with this increase in death. So this increase was expected but it’s still very sad,” Farley said.

There was better news on new cases because even though there were more than 500, that’s about the same level it’s been all week, no longer climbing at an ever steeper rate, reinforcing officials’ optimism that social distancing is working. 

But Mayor Jim Kenney cautions these measures may continue through the summer. 

“We need to continue to modify our behavior and what we’re used to doing in order for this not to come back,” he said.

Additional funding

Efforts to help those impacted by the measures continue too. 

The fund for nonprofits is up to $13 million and the first grants have gone out to 44 organizations.

Kenney announced that the deadline for micro-businesses to apply for funding from the city’s COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund is before midnight Wednesday, April 15 hereThe mayor said the fund has already received over 6,000 applications from businesses.

The COVID-19 Arts Aid PHL has also been formed, and the $3 million fund will also focus on supporting artists and small art organizations.

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KYW Newsradio's Tim Jimenez and Pat Loeb contributed to this report.