Testing truck will be key to pandemic’s next phase, officials say

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley speaks Monday, Dec. 21, outside a new mobile coronavirus testing truck.
PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

City officials unveiled a coronavirus testing truck Monday that they said could be integral to the next phase of the pandemic in Philadelphia.

The mobile site, which can be set up in about 15 minutes, will be able to quickly respond to neighborhoods and individual buildings—such as senior living facilities—experiencing outbreaks, according to the city’s Department of Public Health.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said testing and contact tracing will become more important if cases go down and more people are able to be vaccinated.

“Here’s what the endgame of this pandemic looks like: Most people won’t experience infection at all, but there will be small outbreaks that will occur in specific settings or in specific neighborhoods,” Farley said.

“When they do, then the health department will need to work quickly to learn who’s infected, then do immediate contact tracing and contain that outbreak,” he added, speaking in front of the truck Monday near Carousel House in West Fairmount Park.

The van, which began operating last week, offers free COVID-19 testing kits, and recipients will be directed to self-administer the nasal swabs, which, unlike earlier tests, do not go deep into the nostril.

It’s a completely contact-less process, officials said, and the vehicle even has built-in gloves to protect employees. Appointments are available, but so are walk-ups.

“The vaccine campaign is going to extend for months, so we need other tactics to protect Philadelphia residents in the meantime,” Farley said.

Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., who spoke at the unveiling, said the van could alleviate mobility concerns in areas with a high number of elderly residents.

“We have to be able to go where the virus is,” he said.

The truck, which has air conditioning, heating, and cold storage, was developed in partnership with Conshohocken-based Aardvark Mobile Tours.

Inside the COVID-19 mobile testing truck, which was unveiled by the city Monday, Dec. 21.PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

When not deployed to virus hotspots, it will be stationed at Parks and Recreation sites in neighborhoods the health department has identified as not having enough access to testing.

On Tuesday, the mobile unit will be at the Northeast Older Adult Center in Rhawnhurst between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. For updates on where it is, or to find information about the city’s 60 fixed testing sites, go to www.phila.gov/testing.

The health department is recommending residents get tested if they have COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed to someone with the virus.

Officials showed off a new COVID-19 testing truck Monday, Dec. 21, at Fairmount Park.PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

Over the weekend, 1,629 people in Philadelphia tested positive, and there were 15,100 combined cases in Pennsylvania Sunday and Monday. Last week’s positive test rate statewide was just under 16%.

COVID-19 hospitalizations, which had climbed to around 950 in the city during this most recent wave, are down to 844.

Philadelphia has recorded five virus-related fatalities since Friday, bringing its death toll to 2,223, while the state logged 99 deaths Sunday and 57 on Monday.

State officials said 97 hospitals that were slated to get trays of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine have received their shipments.

As of Sunday, 17,700 doses had been administered in Pennsylvania, not counting inoculations in Philadelphia, which has been dealing with the federal government to handle its own vaccine distribution.

The city received 13,650 doses last week, and Farley said Monday that he would have more information about this week’s allotment at his regularly-scheduled Tuesday afternoon press briefing.

In other news, pandemic food sites will have an altered schedule this week due to Christmas.

School District of Philadelphia meal locations, which are normally open on Fridays, will instead be open Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Most of the 70-plus city-sponsored food distribution points will be closed the next two Thursdays, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. However, the sites will have expanded hours this week and next.

For more information, visit www.phila.gov/food or call 311.