Cases falling amid holiday fears

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the vaccine campaign in Philadelphia has been running smoothly so far.
Jack Tomczuk

Novel coronavirus cases are falling in Philadelphia, having decreased for three straight weeks and by about 40% since a November peak, the city’s top health official said Tuesday.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley credited the “Safer at Home” restrictions for the drop and urged people to avoid New Year’s parties and any other indoor gatherings to prevent a post-holiday spike.

Effects from Christmas get-togethers should begin appearing by the end of the week, and New Year’s fallout may follow, with the possibility that the dual spikes will “feed off each other,” Farley said.

The restrictions were initially scheduled to expire Jan. 1, but officials last week extended parts of those measures, including a ban on indoor dining, to Jan. 15.

Other activities, including gyms, outdoor sports leagues and museums, may be able to resume after Jan. 4, when a similar slate of state pandemic regulations are due to expire.

Last week, Philadelphia averaged 502 new COVID-19 cases a day and recorded a positive test rate of 9%, both lower than the prior week’s 679 daily cases and 9.4%. The city’s case rates are now the lowest in southeastern Pennsylvania, Farley said.

Coronavirus hospitalizations, which stand at 784, have been falling since a high-point in mid-December, and death numbers have also been decreasing, he added.

On Tuesday, Philadelphia saw 822 new confirmed cases and 38 COVID-19-related fatalities, and Pennsylvania as a whole registered 8,545 infections and 267 deaths.

A total of 18,366 healthcare workers have been vaccinated in the city, which is independently handling its own inoculation campaign.

“Overall, the vaccination initiative is running very smoothly,” Farley said.

State officials reported about 10,000 additional injections Tuesday, bringing the number of people vaccinated in Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia to 82,790.

Farley said the city’s allotment for this week is 8,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 9,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine. Officials have been told to expect a similarly-sized shipment for the next two weeks.

The doses will be dedicated to hospital workers, as well as other healthcare employees who are not based at large medical centers, Farley added.

Every nursing home in the city has hooked up with CVS or Walgreens as part of a federal vaccination partnership, and that initiative is getting underway this week, officials said.

A new strain of the virus first identified in the United Kingdom has been dominating headlines, and a recent study found it could be 56% more transmissible.

It has yet to be found in the United States, but Farley said the strain can’t be identified through a standard COVID-19 test.

“I would say it’s likely this new variant is somewhere in the United States right now,” he said. “It’s simply not been recognized yet.”

Federal experts are sampling positive tests to search for the strain, and Farley asked residents to contact the Philadelphia Department of Public Health if they have been diagnosed with the virus following a recent trip to the U.K.

He explained that scientists currently believe this version of the virus doesn’t cause more serious symptoms, and officials believe it should be prevented by the vaccine.

More studies also need to be completed before it’s proven that the strain actually spreads more easily, Farley added.

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