Number of coronavirus cases in Philly doubles

Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said during a news conference that for the first time, his department is seeing coronavirus cases that can’t be traced back to a source. PHOTO: JACK TOMCZUK

COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia doubled in the span of 24 hours as testing for the virus ramps up, health officials said.

Nine additional people have been infected with the coronavirus, bringing the city’s total number of patients up to 18, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said at an afternoon news briefing.

For the first time, Farley’s department is seeing cases that can’t be traced back to a source.

“At least some of them did not travel internationally and had no known or recognized contact to a known case,” he said. “So we do know that this virus is circulating in the community.”

The virus is not confined to a particular neighborhood or section of the city, Farley said. Health officials have not revealed any information about the location of the patients.

“Everyone should assume that it’s everywhere,” Farley added.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania has risen to 96. More than 870 people across the state have tested negative for COVID-19.

Farley said city officials are awaiting 70 test results and closely monitoring 114 people who have been exposed to the virus.

A number of healthcare systems, including the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, Jefferson University and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, have set up rapid testing sites, Farley said.

Those sites saw a total of about 200 people on Monday, he said.

Farley said anyone with symptoms, the most common of which include a dry cough, fever and fatigue, should contact their doctor and go through that doctor’s health system to speed up the registration process.

He said residents who don’t have symptoms should not get tested. A runny nose and sore throat are ailments not associated with the coronavirus, Farley said. Residents with concerns can call the Greater Philadelphia Coronavirus Helpline at 1-800-722-7122.

City officials released additional information about Monday’s order requiring all non-essential businesses to close through at least March 27.

Businesses affected by the ban include movie theaters, clothing stores, gyms, art and music venues, nightclubs and event halls. Restaurants and bars are prohibited from offering dine-in service.

City Managing Director Brian Abernathy said no businesses have been forced to close, though inspectors are ready to issue warnings and citations. The city urged residents who see businesses violating the order to call 311.

“The restrictions we announced yesterday are difficult but necessary,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. “I can tell you that the great majority of folks have been understanding and cooperative.”

Abernathy said representatives from the state, Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation and City Department of Commerce are working to develop a business support program, and they hope to have details by the end of the week.

Kenney called on the federal government to aid municipalities, and he compared the coronavirus pandemic to World War II and an economic depression.

“We cannot tow this entire burden on the city,” he said. “This is a national issue, and we’re expecting our national government to do what they’re supposed to do and make sure we’re whole.”

President Donald Trump called on Congress to send checks to Americans and release funding for a stimulus package that could cost $1 trillion, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Parking Authority announced Tuesday that it is no longer enforcing meters, kiosks or residential parking permit zones.

PPA Executive Director Scott Petri said the agency will be focusing on enforcing safety violations, including double-parking, parking in loading zones and blocking crosswalks or entrances.

SEPTA has reduced Regional Rail trains by 25 percent, and the agency expects to enact more cutbacks, maybe by the end of the week, to its other services, including bus and subway routes.

“We’ve seen significant ridership loss across the entire system,” said Scott Sauer, SEPTA’s vice president for operations. “We are also looking for ways to provide our employees with an opportunity to distance themselves and take care of their personal and family needs during the crisis.”

Weekday Regional Rail ridership has dropped by 44 percent in wake of the virus, a SEPTA spokesperson told Metro.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia decided Tuesday to cancel all Masses indefinitely. Archbishop Nelson Perez, who took over the city’s Catholic Church just last month, had previously waived Mass obligations.

“All of us need to do our part to slow the spread of this illness,” Perez said in a statement. “Like you, we are monitoring coronavirus developments and look forward to continuing our lives on a more normal basis.”