Philly health commissioner: Too early to know if COVID-19 spread is slowing

KYW Staff
April 09, 2020 - 1:43 pm

UPDATED: 4:30 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley said the latest numbers in Philadelphia suggest the rate of increase for new coronavirus infections seems to be slowing. But he cautioned it is still too early to know for sure. 

He reported 494 new cases of coronavirus infection since Wednesday, for a citywide total of 5,271.

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Farley said that 494 is similar to the number reported on Wednesday. He said if the number of new cases each day stays in the same general range, it could signify that the rate of infection is slowing. But he warned there may yet be rises and falls before that happens.

Farley also reported 26 new deaths, for a citywide total of at least 104 people since the pandemic began. 

Farley said the best way to keep the numbers down is to continue to stay home. However, he said a survey the city did last week suggests the message is being absorbed unevenly.

“African-Americans were less likely to report a reduction in social contacts. It was a 54 percent reduction in African-Americans versus 67 percent in whites,” he said.

And even when the rate of new infections levels, Farley warned that the city could continue to see a rise in fatalities, because they will lag behind the curve of infections.

Farley had a similar message — hopeful but cautious — earlier Thursday morning, when he joined KYW Newsradio by phone to respond to recent attention from the White House, indicating that Philadelphia may be on the verge of becoming a hot spot for a surge in coronavirus cases.

"We’ve had some better news, I would say, in the past few days, where our case counts continue to rise but they’re not rising at the same rate they were rising before. So, I’m hopeful that things will be tailing off," he said.

Listen to the full interview above.

In the White House coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the federal Coronavirus Task Force, stressed what Farley and other city officials have been saying for weeks: "Our message to the people of the Philadelphia area is: Now more than ever, practice social distancing."

To reach communities with that message, Farley said, the city has used advertising, Zoom town halls, virtual meetings with religious congregations and inserts sent to residents with their water bills. He said Census workers have been trained in outreach on COVID-19 topics as well.

Farley said nursing home communities and long-term care facilities continue to be hit hard by the virus, noting that 44 of those 104 deceased were nursing home residents. And 66 of them were over the age of 70.

He also said 39 of the 104 deaths are known to be African-American residents, compared to 25 known to be white residents. Racial data is missing on a third of the victims.

Officials say they are increasing their efforts in communities of color.

He enumerated several measures the city is taking to help prevent new infections in those facilities, separating positive cases immediately and ending group activities.

According to city officials, Thursday and Friday this week, 81,274 items — a mix of face shields, gowns, gloves, and masks — are being delivered to 55 long-term care facilities. The deliveries from the Office of Emergency Management warehouse include supplies from the federal stockpile and items that were donated to the city.

Distribution is based on the capacity of each facility, and the responses they gave to a Department of Public Health survey conducted earlier in the week.

Schools remain closed, but education continues

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Thursday that all Pennsylvania schools would remain closed through the end of the academic year, but Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite said that doesn't mean the school year is over.

Students and teachers may return to their school buildings until the fall, he said, but nothing has changed with the district's plans for remote learning.

He said that's why the district has been distributing 40,000 Chromebooks.

Hite says 7,000 teachers have been trained on the Google Classroom platform. He says online enrichment starts April 20, and classes that count toward final grades will begin on May 4.

State Health Secretary Rachel Levine announced Thursday that there has been an additional 1,989 positive coronavirus cases in the state, bringing the total to 18,228 cases, with 338 deaths in total.

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KYW Newsradio's Mike Denardo, Tim Jimenez, Pat Loeb and Eric Walter contributed to this report.

Stay with KYW Newsradio for the latest. This story will be updated.