Officials are advising residents to not attend large public gatherings -- including Sunday's St. Patrick's Day Parade -- after they reported the first case of the new coronavirus in Philadelphia.
Mayor Jim Kenney confirmed the city's first case of COVID-19 Tuesday afternoon. Officials said the person is an adult from Philadelphia who contracted the SARS-CoV-2 virus and is known to have exposure to previously confirmed cases of the new coronavirus. The person is currently isolated at home.
While they are not cancelling all large events in Philadelphia, the Health Department is still recommending that residents consider not attending large public gatherings with more than 5,000 people. Officials said it was especially important for people with chronic health conditions and the elderly to heed the warning.
“Obviously this is a difficult situation and we certainly recognize that many businesses and individuals rely on these sorts of events for their livelihood,” Managing Director Brian Abernathy said. “But we do so out of an abundance of caution. This also impacts our sports teams, both professional, collegiate and even high school. It is simply far more important at this point in time to keep residents and visitors out of large crowds of that size.”
Officials said the two most common symptoms of COVID-19 are a fever and dry cough. They recommended anyone with those symptoms to stay away from other people, call a physician and get tested.
“We have said that Philadelphia would see cases of the coronavirus, and now we have our first case in the city,” Dr. Thomas Farley, Commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, said. “We expect additional cases will be identified. We are continuing to work to identify cases, quarantine individuals who may have been exposed, and contain this virus. The most important thing you can do to help: if you are sick with fever or cough, stay home. If you think you should be tested, contact your doctor.”
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Multiple cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey prior to Tuesday's announcement.
COVID-19 is spread mainly from person-to-person when droplets from an infected person who coughs or sneezes land on someone else’s nose or mouth or enter their lungs, according to the CDC. It can also be spread when someone touches their own mouth, nose and possibly eyes after coming into contact with a surface that has the virus on it.
To prevent the spread of the virus, the CDC recommends frequently washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds – or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol – wiping down dirty surfaces and using the inside of the elbow to cover a cough or sneeze.
The state has a lab in Exton, in suburban Philadelphia, that can make use of new equipment to boost its capacity to test up to 150 people a day from up to 25 people a day. Private labs and academic medical centers are starting to administer tests or will start soon. Levine said there is no testing backlog.
All major health insurers providing comprehensive medical coverage in the state will cover medically appropriate COVID-19 testing and treatment, including waiving cost-sharing for testing, Gov. Tom Wolf's administration has said.