Philadelphia began easing restrictions Tuesday as the number of new coronavirus cases dipped below 100 for the first time in weeks and the city prepared to enter the first phase of the state’s reopening plan.
Mayor Jim Kenney signed an order allowing food trucks, which have been shut down since late March, to reopen and restaurants to permit people to walk in and order. Previously, customers had to call ahead or order online for takeout.
“This is what I consider to be the first step towards a new normal here,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.
Everyone, customers and staff, will be required to wear masks, and lines of more than 10 people are prohibited, according to the order. Dine-in service is still not permitted.
City leaders also expanded the criteria for construction, allowing projects with permits issued after March 20 to begin. Workers were allowed to return to job sites with older permits at the beginning of the month.
In addition, Kenney amended his coronavirus regulations to authorize the real estate industry to reopen, following a similar state directive last week.
All of the changes went into effect Tuesday.
Officials reported 97 new COVID-19 cases and eight additional fatalities, bringing Philadelphia’s death toll to 1,243. Farley said the counts may be lower due to the holiday weekend.
A total of 891 patients with the virus are hospitalized in southeastern Pennsylvania, including 439 in the city. Farley said local medical centers are “probably all breathing a sigh of relief,” with hospitalizations down more than 50 percent since the peak of the pandemic.
Farley announced Tuesday that the city is further relaxing its testing standards by recommending that asymptomatic people who have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus get tested.
They shouldn’t be tested until at least a week after their contact with the infected person because it might take time for signs of the virus to manifest, he added.
The city’s criteria for testing had been anyone showing symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
Philadelphia’s number of free testing sites continues to grow, with about 50 locations already set up.
On Tuesday, the Family Practice and Counseling Network said it would be hosting a site at the Abbottsford Homes Community Center, 3226 McMichael St. in East Falls, on Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. through June 18.
For a complete list of testing locations, visit www.phila.gov/testing.
Kenney said the city is focusing on communication and outreach to continue getting the message out about social distancing and the importance of masks after a Memorial Day weekend when some openly flouted virus-related rules.
Police on Monday night broke up a party in North Philadelphia after a fight broke out. A DJ was performing for a crowd of 200 to 250 people in a vacant lot on Cecil B. Moore Avenue and Taney Street, authorities.
“If some people in the community don’t want to be responsible, then they’re going to be responsible for the death of senior citizens, then slide back into red if it happens,” Kenney said.
Officials said they plan to release guidance this week for when the city moves into the state’s yellow phase, scheduled for June 5. Most retail businesses will be allowed to reopen, and the stay-at-home order will be lifted, according to Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan.
Farley said rules in the city may differ compared to how the phase has been handled in other counties that have already transitioned to yellow.
“We want to make sure we have the protections in place for Philadelphia, which is clearly unique in the state of Pennsylvania,” he said.
He added that businesses will have to closely monitor the number of customers, install barriers and, most of all, require masks.
“Wearing a mask has to become the normal expected behavior of what we do when we’re around other people,” he said. “That’s the way we can restart our economy safely.”