The first wave of novel coronavirus seems to be dissipating in Philadelphia, but a second wave is starting to emerge, threatening reopening plans, the city’s top doctor said Friday.
Philadelphia’s goal was to enter the “green” phase of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan by July 3, but a rise in new cases means that goal is now “unlikely,” and a mandatory mask order will now be in place, Dr. Thomas Farley, the city’s health commissioner, said.
“The first wave of the epidemic appears to be ending, but at the same time a second wave is beginning, so we all need to be concerned. And to minimize our health risks in this new wave, everyone needs to take safety guidelines seriously, especially the wearing of masks,” he said.
Full coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak and how it impacts you
The city is now issuing a mandatory mask order at all indoor public places and at outdoor areas where people are less than six feet apart from people who don’t live in their own household. Businesses will also be receiving notices in the form of flyers asking them to enforce mask policies on their premises.
Farley said his staff conducted an informal survey earlier this month and found that roughly 55% of people at SEPTA stations were wearing masks, while about 78% of those were doing so when leaving stores.
Those numbers need to increase, Farley said, but it will be up to residents to “self-enforce” the mask order and encourage others to do the same.
Philadelphia health officials had previously said the city would need to see roughly 80 new cases of the virus – or fewer – per day, or have less than 4% of tests come back positive, to meet the goal of entering the green phase on July 3. Instead, Farley on Friday announced 143 new infections, taking the total to at least 25,693.
A lot of the new cases, he said, were in teenagers between 16 and 19 years old who have been getting infected while attending social events.
The jump, the health commissioner said, cannot be explained solely by increased testing, as indicated by the rise in the proportion of positive cases. About 10 days ago, less than 5% of tests were coming back positive, but now that has increased to roughly 5-6%, Farley said.
“Here in Philadelphia, we laid out targets for what we would need to meet in order for us to reopen in the green phase. Those targets we may not meet by next Friday because we are not seeing a consistent decrease in cases over four weeks, which is one of our targets, or we may not be meeting the daily case targets,” Farley said.
Farley urged people coming from areas where cases are rising to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Some businesses like barber shops, beauty salons, nail salons and private swim clubs will be allowed to operate, as previously scheduled. However, other businesses slated for a July 3 reopening will now likely have to wait yet again, and plans for indoor dining may be scrapped.
The city has also not ruled out rolling back outdoor dining if it appears the practice is causing the virus to spread, either.
Asked if he was worried that a delayed reopening could drive consumers to surrounding counties and away from Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney noted the level of interconnectedness between the city and the suburbs.
“In the end, if we don’t get it right, both the suburbs and us will be going back to yellow at some point. And I think the short-term gain is not worth the long-term pain of having to revert back,” Kenney said.