‘Breakthrough’ cases rare, new Philly data shows

COVID-19 vaccinations in Philadelphia
A child gets his second dose of the coronavirus vaccine at the Philadelphia Zoo.
REUTERS/Rachel Wisniewski

Only a small percentage of Philadelphians who have tested positive for the coronavirus since the beginning of the year have been fully vaccinated, according to data released by the city Wednesday.

And nearly all COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths in the city have occurred among those who have not been immunized, officials said.

Meanwhile, the virus has begun to have an effect on Philadelphia schools, where many students have not received a shot or are ineligible because they are under the age of 12.

The newly-released data shows that less than 5% of the city’s COVID-19 cases since January have occurred in fully vaccinated people.

Residents who have not received an immunization or are only partially vaccinated have accounted for 96.5% of the hospitalizations and 98.2% of the deaths this year, according to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

During the month of August, about 6,700 unvaccinated people in the city tested positive, compared to 1,887 who were immunized. Sixty-six vaccinated and 277 unvaccinated people were admitted to the hospital with COVID-19.

“It’s important to note that all vaccines have breakthrough cases,” Cheryl Bettigole, the city’s health commissioner, said Wednesday. “This is not just a COVID vaccine thing. So we expect to see some people who have been fully vaccinated test positive.”

Philadelphia’s findings on “breakthrough” infections mirrored the results of a state report published Tuesday, which showed that unvaccinated people in Pennsylvania were eight times more likely to die of the virus and seven times more likely to catch it.

Outbreaks close three Philly schools

Three city schools have reverted to online instruction after documenting several positive tests among students and teachers.

Eleanor C. Emlen Elementary School in East Mount Airy, Lindley Academy Charter School in Logan and Pan American Academy Charter School in Fairhill have suspended in-person classes, just weeks into the academic year.

Emlen, the first Philadelphia public school to shut its doors, experienced “multiple” cases, according to a letter sent to parents Monday. The school went virtual Tuesday and is expected to reopen in-person Sept. 24.

The letter alerted parents that they would be contacted if their child was in a classroom with anyone who tested positive. Families were also told to monitor their child for symptoms and get them tested if necessary.

Six people from Lindley caught COVID-19, and the school transitioned to remote learning Friday.

Administrators, noting that the surrounding North Philadelphia neighborhood has low immunization rates, are encouraging families to sign up for a vaccine.

The School District of Philadelphia’s pandemic dashboard, which was last updated Sept. 4, shows that 125 teachers, staff and students have been diagnosed with the virus since Aug. 22.

Bettigole said the health department is advising schools about when to pause in-person instruction for a classroom, grade or building.

Delta surge seems to be waning

Coronavirus infections in Philadelphia crested in late August and early September and appear to be declining following a Delta variant-fueled spike.

Cases have been on a downward trend since last month, and the city is now recording an average of 250 cases a day, down from 313 on Sept. 4, Bettigole said. The positive test rate has also dropped from a recent high of 7.4% to 4.5% for the week of Sept. 5, according to health department data.

“I believe that our high vaccine rate is why we’re not seeing all of the cases, the overfilled hospitals and the deaths that other states with lower vaccine rates are seeing,” Bettigole told reporters.

More than 1 million Philadelphian residents, nearly 83% of the city’s adult population, are at least partially vaccinated, and 68% are fully immunized.