Kenney says Philly is battling 2 public health crises: Guns and coronavirus

KYW Staff
March 31, 2020 - 1:58 pm

UPDATED: 5:56 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney said another “public health crisis” has crept back into the foreground: gun violence.

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Authorities say five people in North Philadelphia were shot Monday night at a birthday party: two adults, an 18-year-old girl, a 14-year-old girl, and a 1-year-old.

The baby boy is in critical condition.

“This is horrible by itself, but the fact that it comes as the impact of this virus is felt in every neighborhood of Philadelphia, it’s even more gut-wrenching,” Kenney said.

Kenney condemned the overnight gun violence and reminded the public that police are still enforcing the law, and arrests will still be made for gun-related crimes, among others, during this pandemic.

“If you’re committing gun violence, you will be arrested,” he reiterated. “There needs to be some consequences.”

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw joined the daily briefing to discuss enforcement.

“We are really working in uncharted territory. Arrest is not off the table, given that we’re all familiar with some people that have been out and about very blatantly in disregard of the stay-at-home order, but we have to deal with these on a case-by-case basis,” she said.

Kenney called on District Attorney Larry Krasner to be more aggressive.

“We have people out there who are walking around with illegal guns. Our people are arresting them and taking their guns, and they seem to find their way, in the process, back out on the street, and that is not acceptable,” he said. “I believe something needs to be done differently than what we are doing. People do not believe that there is a consequence for carrying an illegal gun, and we need to change that mindset.”

Kenney continued, “We need more people who are carrying guns on the street illegally, and are carrying guns with a record, to be segregated from the community. That’s the reason why our spike has happened and the reason our homicide spike has happened.

“Our officers are on the street, valiantly putting their lives in harm's way, to take gun after gun after gun off the street, and it seems the same characters wind up back on the street with another gun.”

Jane Roh, spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office, said in a statement: “The DAO has vigorously prosecuted and has not declined to charge a single individual arrested by police during the COVID-19 emergency for a shooting, homicide, or other violent crime.”

Continued growth of COVID-19

During a daily press briefing on Tuesday, Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley said they’re seeing a continued growth with the addition of 242 new cases since Monday, bringing the total in Philadelphia to 1,315 confirmed coronavirus cases.

Of that current total, 87 have been hospitalized, and 88 of them are health care workers. Meanwhile, 6,850 people have tested negative.

Farley announced five new deaths on Tuesday, bringing the total to 14. Seven of the deaths were residents in nursing homes.

Farley said they’ve seen a shift toward more cases involving African-American residents, though race has only been documented among 85% of test results. He emphasized that the virus does not discriminate, and cases are among all ZIP codes and demographics.

Older adults are still at the greatest risk of death. Ten of the city’s 14 fatalities were people over the age of 60.

Right now, hospitals are reporting excess capacity, but officials say Philadelphia is suffering a shortage of personal protective equipment, an issue for hospitals across the country.

But Kenney said that doesn’t mean health care is being rationed.

“No one, even residents who are undocumented, can be discriminated against when decisions are being made about their care during this pandemic,” he added.

SEPTA workers test positive

SEPTA announced its first confirmed cases of coronavirus in at least two employees who they believe got it by contact with customers. 

A SEPTA spokesman wouldn't say where exactly those contacts might have occurred, but suspects the two got it through "customer-facing" positions.

Six other infected employees, which were announced over the weekend, work on the Market-Frankford Line, the Frankford Transportation Center, the Allegheny, Elmwood and Comly depots, and in the shop at the Norristown High Speed Line.

In all, 13 SEPTA employees have tested positive.

Philly is taking social distancing seriously

Philadelphia health officials urged residents to stay home in the hopes of controlling the spread.

Managing Director Brian Abernathy said the city is taking the rims off of basketball goals at city rec centers, so people will stop playing pick-up games and gathering in large groups.

So far, he said warnings and, in a few cases, citations have been issued, but mostly residents have done a good job of complying to the stay-at-home order.

The exception is Kensington, where people who are addicted to opioids have been impervious to social-distancing messages.

“We’re going to need different tactics to tackle the challenges in Kensington,” he added.

Farley said taking preventive measures could have a profound effect on how severely the city gets hit in the coming weeks.

“If our social distancing is very effective, we may not see a surge at all,” he hoped.

In the meantime, the city is preparing for the worst and adapting Temple University’s Liacouras Center as a potential medical site, though officials hope it won’t be needed.

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KYW Newsradio's Pat Loeb, Kristen Johanson and Rachel Kurland contributed to this report.