coronavirus pandemic

Philadelphia Targets Gatherings, Gyms and Dining With New Virus Restrictions

A sharp rise in new COVID-19 infections in and around Philadelphia is forcing public health officials to put in place new restrictions to stop the viral spread

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What to Know

  • Philadelphia will cease indoor dining, close gyms and museums and restrict indoor gatherings inside homes starting Friday, Nov. 20. The restrictions are set to last for six weeks.
  • Outdoor gatherings will have new people limits and food and drink will not be allowed. Youth sports must end play.
  • Early childhood education and childcare can continue to operate in-person with strict safety protocols.

Philadelphia announced new coronavirus restrictions on Monday that aim to combat a lack of mask wearing and social distancing indoors at public spaces, restaurants, gyms and inside private homes.

The restrictions roll the city back to prohibitions that were put in place during the spring COVID-19 surge. Under the restrictions that will go into effect on Friday, indoor parties and dining will be nixed; fitness centers, museums and libraries will be closed; and eating and drinking will not be allowed at outdoor gatherings. We have a full breakdown of the new restrictions below.

Take out, delivery and outdoor dining with some new limitations are allowed to continue operating. Hair salons and barbers will be allowed to continue operating with the current restrictions in place.

Philadelphia has seen a precipitous rise in new COVID-19 infections over the past few weeks – going from nearly 400 new infections on Nov. 4 to more than 1,100 on Nov. 13. Overall in the city, fatalities from the disease topped 1,900 since the pandemic began. More than 55,000 residents were confirmed to have had the disease and more than 1,900 people have died.

"Unfortunately the epidemic is approaching its worst," Dr. Thomas Farley, the city's health commissioner, said Monday afternoon. The current COVID-19 positivity rate is 13.4% and there's been a 700% rise in the average number of new cases over the past two months, officials said.

The number of daily confirmed cases is doubling about every three weeks, Farley said.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said city leaders do not enjoy putting the restrictions in place, but that saving lives is paramount.

"Obviously, we don't enjoy doing this, but we cannot ignore the numbers and we have to take these precautions in order to get us back to a healthy situation," Kenney said.

Pennsylvania reported 9,675 new cases over the past two days with more than 2,440 people being hospitalized and 531 of those in an intensive care unit. Pa. Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said on Monday that contact tracing staff are having trouble getting people to provide details about where they've been leading up to their confirmed infection.

Nationwide, NBC News data shows the virus is being spread rapidly with more than 133,000 newly confirmed cases in the past 24 hours. 11.1 million Americans have contracted the disease with at least 240,300 of those people losing the battle against the virus. Preliminary data from two vaccine candidates – one from Pfizer and the other from Moderna – shows they may have an 90%+ efficacy rate, but health officials maintain it will realistically take months to deploy them to the public.

The restrictions are being put into place as the holiday season nears. Public health experts fear family gatherings for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas and New Year's will only accelerate the virus' spread even further.

Many medical experts have pointed to smaller gatherings, like inside homes and around kitchen tables, as prime spreading events because of a lack of mask wearing and proper social distancing.

Philadelphia's restrictions are focused on reducing opportunities for people to linger indoors with people not from their household and where they'd have to remove their face masks.

Farley said contact tracing is showing that the virus is "spreading a little bit everywhere" through a variety of settings.

Left unmitigated, Farley and Kenney said the city could see more than 3,000 new infections per day and that hospital capacity will be overrun by the end of the year.

The number of people hospitalized in the city on Monday is higher than it was in April – three weeks into a total shutdown at that time.

“We may totally exceed the hospital capacity of the entire city by the end of 2020," Farley said. He added that modeling shows between 700 and 1,400 people could die by the end of 2020.

Farley said while the restrictions will only be in place for Philadelphia, he's urging his counterparts in the counties surrounding the city in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware to enact similar measures since many people travel in between them and often city hospitals serve surrounding communities.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday did slash limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings statewide as cases rise across the Garden State.

Here's a breakdown of the new COVID-19 restrictions lasting from Friday, Nov. 20, 2020 to Friday, Jan. 1, 2021.

Indoor gatherings of any size, in any location, public or private are prohibited

  • No indoor parties, group meals, watching sporting events as a group
  • No visiting between households
  • No indoor weddings, funerals or baby showers

Outdoor gatherings are limited by size and no food or drink

  • Outdoor gatherings are restricted to 10% occupancy or 10 people per 1,000 sq. ft.; cap of 2,000 people in very large spaces
  • No food or beverages can be served to ensure that people wear their masks at all times

Following Monday's announcement, the Philadelphia Eagles said fans will no longer be allowed in the stands during home games at Lincoln Financial Field.

Restaurant indoor dining must end and new changes for outdoor dining

  • Indoor dining at restaurants must cease
    While restaurants have worked hard to follow precautions, the risk of people indoors during cold weather without masks is too great, officials said.
  • Outdoor dining will be restricted to 4 seats per table and all must be from the same household to prevent spreading the virus from one house to another.

Retail stores can operate with limited occupancy

  • Reduced density inside retail stores must be enforced
  • No more than 5 persons per 1,000 sq.ft.
  • All staff and customers must wear masks
  • Stores should not serve any person who is not wearing a mask

Museums, theaters, gyms must close and youth sports to cease play

The following businesses must close or cease activities:

  • Youth, community and school sports
  • Gyms
  • Museums
  • Libraries
  • Bowling alleys, arcades and game spaces
  • Casinos
  • Senior day services

Youth and community sports organizers are asked to stop moving games and practices to surrounding counties that have less restrictions in place.

Religious institutions can operate with reduced occupancy

  • Celebration of services are allowed, but with a reduced density of 5% or 5 persons per 1,000 sq. ft.
  • Online worship services is encouraged

Continue work from home wherever possible

  • Workspaces are asked to continue allowing staff to work from home unless their job cannot be performed in that setting

Online only schooling for colleges and high schools

  • Only virtual learning will be allowed for colleges, universities and high schools through Jan. 1, 2021.
Many indoor public places in Philadelphia will be closed down at the end of the week. NBC10's Keith Jones has the breakdown of what will will be closed in response to the coronavirus surge and what will remain open.

Child care and access centers, elementary and middle schools will be allowed to continue operating in-person activities with strict safety protocols in place including universal mask wearing and social distancing.

The Philadelphia school district was planning to return some students to classrooms in the coming days, but put the decision on hold after this recent spike in cases.

City officials say they know there's a lower risk of children becoming seriously ill if they contract the disease and that early childhood education is paramount. Also, essential workers need child care. They point to success seen in Europe where schools were allowed to remain open while reducing COVID-19 viral spread.

Kenney said he and city leadership understands that the new restrictions will be devastating to businesses and pleaded with federal and state leaders to provide stimulus assistance to keep people afloat and help the city combat the virus.

"We're hoping that the Congress, sooner or later, possibly sooner would come up with providing a bailout package to the American people to deal with this issue," Kenney said. "We cannot simply, as a city, handle this ourselves."

Kenney would not rule out a total shutdown of non-essential businesses if the numbers continue to rise. "We're trying to do this in increments," the mayor said.

The following businesses are allowed to operate with current coronavirus restrictions, the city said:

  • Grocery stores and farmers markets
  • Pharmacies
  • Banks 
  • Construction
  • Landscaping
  • Home-based construction, renovation, repair, and maintenance
  • Manufacturing and warehousing
  • Real estate operations and transactions
  • Health care services
  • Home-based support services, such as home health services
  • Taxis and ride share services
  • Transit
  • Outdoor mobile food carts and trucks
  • Hotels
  • Drive-in events in which people remain in their vehicles
  • Child day care and early learning centers
  • Elementary and middle schools
  • Access Centers for children in elementary and middle school

Coronavirus Deaths in Your City and State — and Across the US

These charts use daily coronavirus death data from Johns Hopkins University to show the seven-day moving average of deaths at the city, state and country level.

The impact of coronavirus varies enormously in the United States from one place to another.

Source: Johns Hopkins University.
Credit: Visuals by Amy O’Kruk/NBC, data analysis by Ron Campbell/NBC

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