Mayor defends city health commissioner’s pandemic response after heated Council hearing

Pat Loeb
May 27, 2020 - 4:07 pm

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Mayor Jim Kenney fiercely defended his health commissioner Wednesday, after a bruising City Council budget hearing

Council members expressed displeasure that the Philadelphia Department of Public Health is hiring contact tracers through a contract with Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC), which city Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley said would hasten the process.

“We’re in a real hurry to get contact tracing up and running because we want it functioning when we move into the ‘yellow’ phase, so using these existing contracts enable us to move fast,” he explained.

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That did not impress Councilmember Cherelle Parker, who felt a contract should have gone to an African-American firm — the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium — even though they don’t do contact tracing.

“They may not be as large but have a trust factor that, quite frankly, PHMC, they don’t have when they go into the community,” she said.

The hearing continued in that vain for an hour and a half. When asked about it at the Wednesday afternoon press briefing, Kenney said Farley is the most dedicated public servant he has ever worked with, and he did not deserve the treatment he received by Council members.

“If Council wants to yell at him, he’s a big boy, he can take it. But I have never worked with a public servant that is that dedicated to public health, that does it in a very calm and thoughtful manner, and makes decisions based on data, and not on emotion and not on politics.

“The man works 16 hours a day. He has the weight of the world on his shoulders. The decisions he makes are life-and-death decisions. He is responsible, in my view, for saving tens of thousands of lives in the city,” Kenney said.

The mayor’s remarks came as Farley reported continued progress against the virus. He announced 237 new cases of COVID-19 in the city — higher than he’d like, but the trend continues downward.

“I don’t think we need to have everything in place for this first stage, which allows some activities, which are low-risk activities,” he noted.

He said it’s a positive sign as the region prepares to likely enter the “yellow” phase of the governor’s reopening plan on June 5.

With that date around the corner, the city, along with the University of Pennsylvania, released a survey on how residents view aspects of life in Philadelphia amid the pandemic.

Three-fourths of residents agree that everyone in Philadelphia needs to wear a mask, and just as many say staying home to minimize contact is important.

Nearly 80% of respondents agree that everyone should follow social distancing rules in public, and 71% don’t think it’s OK to gather in groups outdoors right now.

“With the results of this survey, it is clear that the vast majority of Philadelphians get it,” said Kenney. “For the one out of four Philadelphians who still doesn’t get it, it’s time to get on board with your neighbors in acting to keep everyone safe. If we are to emerge from this shutdown as quickly as possible, we need as many people as possible to do what is right and follow these common-sense precautions.”

The survey questioned 626 residents. The results were weighted “by age, race, gender and education to be representative of the population of adults in Philadelphia,” according to the city.

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For other resources regarding COVID-19, visit phila.gov/covid-19 or call the Greater Philadelphia Coronavirus Helpline at 1-800-722-7112.