As Philly reports 23 new coronavirus cases, drive-thru test site opens at ballpark

KYW Staff
March 20, 2020 - 11:46 am

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UPDATED: 8:10 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — As Philadelphia health officials reported 23 new coronavirus cases on Friday, bringing the city total to 67, a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site was getting set to open at Citizens Bank Park.

Related: The latest coronavirus news from Pennsylvania and New Jersey

The Community Based Testing Site will be open daily from 2 to 6 p.m. every day as long as supplies allow.

The site, operated by the city, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, is open to the public, but there are strict eligibility criteria for who can get tested.

  • People who are over 50 years of age and have COVID-19 symptoms
  • Healthcare workers with COVID-19 symptoms, including:
    • Hospital, doctors office, and nursing home staff with direct patient contact
    • Emergency Medical Services workers
    • Home health care staff with direct patient contact

A doctor's note or prescription is not needed to be eligible.

Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said at a Friday press conference at City Hall that those seeking a test should bring a driver's license and, if possible, a health insurance card. 

It's not necessary to have health insurance to get tested, he said, "it just helps us if you have a health insurance card."

Farley stressed that it is possible some people might be turned away, reminding everyone that the testing site is an operation that is just beginning operations that was set up very quickly.

City officials recommend that anyone who does not meet the above criteria, who has a fever, dry cough and shortness of breath, should call their regular health care provider to identify sites to be tested for coronavirus.

There are now 20 other testing sites up and running across Philly, but there is a shortage of testing kits, so they won't give tests to just anyone. So if you have symptoms and you are in a high-risk group, it’s important you contact the last provider you saw and get guidance from them about getting tested.

Philadelphia guidelines

Of the 67 positive cases, 10 patients are health care workers.

“We expect that increase to continue,” Farley said. “We are clearly in the rapid growth phase of this epidemic.”

The city has announced some additional steps to try to limit it.

The city is asking churches not to hold in-person services on Sunday. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has already announced it is planning on holding remote services. 

“Remember that for many of us, this is an experiment,” advised Naomi Leaphart, the city’s director of interfaith affairs. “We've never been here before, so give yourself grace.”

The city is also conforming to the state's order to close non-life sustaining businesses, with some adjustments. It will ask construction sites to close but is giving them a longer timeline, and seeking an exception for a hospital under construction near Penn. Those beds will be important, so they want that project to continue.

Friday was the last day for meal distribution for students out of recreation centers. However, meal service will continue at 80 other sites — mostly schools, but also six public housing sites. The school sites will be open twice a week and will distribute six meals per child.

School District of Philadelphia Security Chief Kevin Bethel said 47,000 meals were distributed this week.

“All of us at the School District of Philadelphia remain committed to making sure our students receive as much support as possible,” he said.

Officials also announced that Martin Luther King Drive will be closed to cars until further notice from East Falls Bridge to Eakins Oval. 

Officials say while they encourage residents to stay indoors as much as possible, they understand the importance of physical activity, and the closure will allow for residents to come out and exercise while spreading out and maintaining social distancing.

SEPTA feels the financial impact of the outbreak  

As recently as the end of last month, the transit agency had a $7.3 million budget surplus.

But a massive, sudden loss in ridership now has SEPTA estimating a budget deficit of least $150 million by the end of the current fiscal year.

SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards said the transit agency is taking several immediate steps to try to control the losses. 

Among the measures being implemented, she said, are 10% pay cuts for the executive team, elimination of overtime, and a hiring freeze.

Richards said the transit agency is working closely with local and state officials, and is staying in close communication with the Pennsylvania Congressional Delegation regarding a possible federal relief package for public transportation.

Montco in need of masks

As of Friday, there are 68 positive coronavirus cases in Montgomery County — one of the highest amounts of any county in the state.

Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh urged any businesses or people who may have face masks of any type to please donate them.

“We’ve already had some donations from businesses that were shut down and they knew they had masks so they offered they up," she said. "So if we could get more from businesses that are closed right now, that would just ease the burden for everyone.”

She said they’re experiencing an ongoing supply issue, like the rest of the country. They are expecting to get a shipment within the coming days, but as a shortage of masks goes on, any little bit helps.

Montco’s drive-thru testing site for COVID-19 also opens Saturday morning, with similar requirements to be tested. Get all the details here.

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KYW Newsradio's Pat Loeb and Jim Melwert contributed to this report.