This story will be updated frequently with the most recent information
Latest: May 7, 5:40 a.m.
Find the rest of Billy Penn’s COVID-19 coverage here
The global pandemic has locked down the Philadelphia region, and the situation continues to change quickly.
Stay in the know about using this guide, which will be updated regularly. Have questions we didn’t answer? Let us know here.
Jump to a section:
- Confirmed cases and government response
- Testing, insurance and hospitals
- The school situation
- Utilities and trash pickup
- Is transportation running?
- Parks and playgrounds
- What stores are open and which businesses must close?
- Food, booze and shopping
- Police, courts and jury duty
- Sports, events and tourism
- How to get unemployment
Confirmed cases and government response
In Philly, there were 287 new positives yesterday, The current seven-day average is 413/day, less than a week ago. The city has recorded 16.7k cases among residents overall. So far, 803 people in the city have died of COVID-19, 53% in longterm care facilities. Philadelphia updates its numbers daily here.
The city’s weekday 1 p.m. briefings are being held virtually. Text COVIDPHL to 888-777 to get updates sent to your phone.
Philly Health Department data shows African Americans testing positive for the virus at a higher rate. Nearly every zip code where at least 30% of coronavirus tests were positive were majority-people of color communities.
Pennsylvania reported 888 new positives yesterday. The current seven-day average of 1,068/day is lower than a week ago. The commonwealth has recorded 51.8k cases out of more than 256k tested. So far, 3,106 people in Pa. are known to have died of COVID-19. The state maintains this daily updated county-by-county breakdown.
Gov. Wolf’s plan to gradually restart Pennsylvania’s economy will happen by region and follow a “red-yellow-green” model. At stage “yellow,” stay-at-home orders will be lifted, but large gatherings are still prohibited and restaurants are still limited to carry-out. To get there, a region needs fewer than 50 cases/100k people over the course of two weeks, plus enough testing capacity and a plan for contact tracing in case positives start to spike.
Pennsylvania’s primary election has been postponed to June 2. You can request a mail-in ballot now, which will come with free, pre-paid postage to cast your vote. Income tax filings have been postponed to July 15 — that’s now the state and federal deadline.
Across the country, more than 7.75 million people have been tested, with more than 1.2 million reported positives. At least 67,256 related deaths have been recorded. Here’s a state-by-state breakdown, and here’s how the curve for the U.S. looks compared to other nations.
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Testing, insurance and hospitals
For most of the test sites around Philadelphia, of which there are around 20, you’ll need a recommendation from a doctor or medical provider. It doesn’t have to be a primary care provider, just one connected to whatever hospital is running the facility.
The city is running a walkup site in Center City, for which you don’t need a referral but you must call 267-491-5870 for an appointment.
For all of these, because there’s a shortage of materials, you should only ask for a test if you’re symptomatic, health officials say. The tell-tale symptoms of COVID-19 are a dry cough, fever and shortness of breath or extreme tiredness. According to Philly Health Commissioner Tom Farley, if you’re suffering from a runny nose, you probably have some other illness.
Rite Aid is also running a test facility in Philadelphia. It will only accept first responders and health care workers. These people do not have to be showing symptoms, and do not need a doctor’s note.
Wherever you get tested, no insurance is necessary, and no deductible or copay will be required
While only a fraction of people with COVID-19 develop severe symptoms, it still might be more than hospitals can handle. That’s the importance of the “flatten the curve” concept you might have heard about, and it’s why we’re all practicing “social distancing.”
Along with city officials, hospitals are working to increase capacity in order to handle a potential influx of patients.
There are currently around 6,200 hospital beds in Philly, which actually gives the city a better ratio than average: about 4 beds per 1,000 people versus 2.8 in the wider region and 2.5 nationally. That still wouldn’t be enough if just 20% of the population is infected, as seen in this ProPublica data visualization.
To help, the city is turning Temple University’s Liacouras Center into a potential overflow site. Its use is being donated free of charge, according to Mayor Kenney. The city has also transformed the Holiday Inn Express in Center City into a quarantine bay for the city’s homeless population — and for any individual who can not isolate at home.
The commonwealth has issued an emergency waiver to allow hospitals to add more beds in unused spaces. Penn Medicine is working around the clock to open part of its under-construction hospital, potentially adding 119 beds for sufferers.
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The school situation
Gov. Wolf has ordered all schools in the entire state to close for the remainder of the academic year. Wolf first shut down all the schools on Mar. 13. As districts get back to remote learning, Wolf has said they should not extend this school year past June 30.
All standardized testing in Pennsylvania has been canceled for the rest of the academic year.
A majority of Philly’s 200,000 public school students live in poverty and depend on schools for breakfast and lunch, so city officials set up dozens of sites that are providing free meals to students during the shutdown. They’re open on Thursdays, and each student can collect ten meals — five breakfasts and five lunches.
“Learning packets” with take-home lessons have been provided to all families. After first saying that teachers were prohibited from doing graded “remote instruction.” the Philly School District has begun distributing 50,000 Chromebooks in order to provide them to students for remote learning. About half of students don’t already have this, per a district survey.
The Philly Board of Education approved $11 million to buy the Chromebooks and gave Superintendent William Hite emergency powers, to allow him to act and respond more quickly.
Have any questions? The School District has hotlines you can call in 10 different languages.
Colleges and universities
When it comes to higher education, just about all colleges and universities in the city have moved to online learning, including the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, Drexel, La Salle, the Community College of Philadelphia, University of the Arts and St. Joseph’s University.
Many universities have also shut down their dormitories and told people to leave campus — which has caused turmoil for international students.
The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) is working on methods to extend relief to students and families so that financial aid doesn’t get cut off unexpectedly. It also extended this year’s state grant application deadline by two weeks, to May 15.
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Utilities and trash pickup
All of the utility companies serving Philly have suspended shut-offs, so even if people can’t pay their bills on time, they won’t be without gas, water, electricity — or internet.
PECO and PGW’s moratorium on service disconnections will last until at least June 1 or until further notice, respectively, and they won’t be assessing late fees during that period, either. Philadelphia Water shut-offs are suspended until mid-May. PECO also announced it would be reconnecting service to folks whose electric was recently cut off.
Verizon and Comcast have both signed an FCC pledge to “keep Americans connected” by not cutting off anyone’s internet or phone. Comcast has made its many Xfinity hotspots around the city free for anyone (you usually have to log in as a customer).
Comcast has also boosted speeds for customers on its $10/month Internet Essentials program for families with lower-income — and new customers will get two months free service.
Some city services have been cut back due to staffing issues. Though trash pickup is running weekly as normal, recycling pickup has been reduced two every two weeks. Philly’s sanitation workers have said they don’t feel safe because they don’t have the equipment they need to stay safe on the job — like masks and gloves.
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Is transportation running?
SEPTA announced a dramatic reduction in service starting on Apr. 9. Dubbed the “Lifeline Service Schedule,” the new transit framework is intended to discourage nonessential trips. Eight stops on the Broad Street Line and 10 stops on the Market-Frankford Line have been closed, and the city’s number of bus routes has been cut down from about 120 to 60. The Philly transit agency also suspended service on six Regional Rail lines.
SEPTA has ramped up sanitation on all modes of travel and at stations. The authority is also asking people to avoid taking public transit unless absolutely necessary and urging travelers to wear masks.
With Regional Rail ridership down 97% and city transit down 78%, SEPTA facing a giant budget crunch. The authority is in line to get $643 million in federal funding to cover operating budgets over the next year and a half.
Several SEPTA staffers have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and as of Apr. 15, it was announced that four had died of the disease.
Amtrak has suspended its Keystone service from Philly to Harrisburg, as well as trains from Pittsburgh to NYC. Those trains that are still running are being cleaned often, with some surfaces wiped down every hour. Fees are waived on all reservation changes through May 31.
PATCO trains are running on reduced schedules, with several Center City stations closed, and lots of enhanced cleaning promised.
PHL Airport is still operating, with enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols, although things are very quiet. Philadelphia was not one of the 13 designated “screener airports” receiving flights from Europe; all flights to and from Europe stopped on Mar. 16. International travel usually makes up about 12% of PHL traffic.
For those who are traveling, TSA has temporarily relaxed the rules about how much hand sanitizer you can carry on flights — it’s now a 12-oz limit, instead of 3 oz. You can also wear masks while you travel, but be ready to “adjust” it so agents can confirm your idenity.
Parks and playgrounds
All rec centers, playgrounds and athletic courts in Philadelphia are closed until further notice, and construction projects at all locations have been suspended. Officials from the Department of Parks & Recreation have removed basketball rims at more than 50 public courts because people wouldn’t stop playing group games.
Parks, trails and athletic fields remain open, with park maintenance like trash pickup ongoing. Use of trails in Philly-area parks is double what it was last year. Three older adult centers — Northeast, Mann and MLK Jr. — are offering grab-and-go meals for seniors from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday. Seniors can pick up five meals — two on Monday, three on Wednesday.
The city is encouraging people to get outside exercise during the lockdown, as long as you stay 6 feet away from one another. To help with that, Martin Luther King Drive along the Schuylkill River has been closed to vehicular traffic and is open to pedestrians, cyclists and runners.
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What stores are open and what businesses must close?
On Mar. 16, the City of Philadelphia ordered all nonessential businesses and government services to close.
The local announcement was quickly followed by a similar statewide shutdown edict from Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf, which has been expanded to all operations not deemed “live-saving.”
What falls under that mandate? The list of places allowed to stay open is fluid, with things being added and taken off as officials see how things unfold.
Places like banks and post offices can stay open, along with laundromats, hardware stores, bike shops, electronics stores, news media, social services organizations and more. See a fuller list of what’s open and what’s closed in Philly here.
No business is required to stay open. No end date for the moratorium has been established.
Nonessential businesses include movie theaters, clothing shops, museums and libraries. If you think you see a place operating that should not be — people were lining up outside gun shops, for example, which are classified as nonessential — you can report it to Philly311 or call 215-686-8686.
Food, booze, shopping
Places you shop for food — like supermarkets, grocery stores, farmers’ markets and convenience stores — are allowed to stay open, and many of them are hiring extra staff as people continue to empty the shelves in order to stock their homes.
Some supermarkets have begun opening an hour early for seniors only, to allow them a chance to snag supplies before all the goods disappear.
Some Philly grocery businesses briefly closed to deep clean their stores. After an employee tested positive for the coronavirus, Wawa temporarily closed 12 stores statewide — including four in Philly — to sanitize. Same with the two Trader Joe’s locations in the city.
Workers at some local grocery stores, like MOM’s Organic Market, have protested management, saying they’ve been forced to work without adequate protections.
Reading Terminal Market stands are still open, and all three of the Food Trust’s weekly year-round markets are open (Clark Park, Headhouse Square, Fitler Square)
Restaurants and other prepared food vendors are barred from offering dine-in service, and from taking walk-up orders. That means paying in advance online or via telephone for pickup or delivery. Find a regularly updated list of spots offering delivery and takeout at Dining at a Distance.
The situation has left the hospitality industry reeling. Many servers, bartenders, cooks and cleaning staffers laid off and out of work. Profit margins are always extremely tight, and many restaurant and bar owners also can’t afford to survive without revenue coming in. Here’s a list of six ways you can help.
Bars must close, but beer distributors are allowed to remain open. State-run Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores are closed, although the ecommerce website has reopened to a limited number of people each day. Also, local distilleries are providing ways to re-up your supply without putting anyone in danger. Here’s a list of where to buy booze, beer and wine in Philly during the lockdown.
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Police, courts and jury duty
In order to reduce crowding and potential spread in city jails and holding cells, the Philadelphia Police Department has changed the way it deals with low-level offenses.
People caught doing certain nonviolent crimes — including narcotics offenses, theft, burglary, prostitution, stolen automobiles and vandalism — will be written up and served with a warrant at a later date, instead of immediately arrested and hauled in. Officers have discretion in how they enact the new rules; if they believe someone poses a threat to public safety, they can arrest the suspect on the spot. Read more about the new arrest protocols here.
The police union contract was expected to be a big point of contention when it would have expired this summer — but the pandemic has pushed off negotiations for at least a year.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pa., located in Philadelphia, has postponed all civil and criminal jury trials through at least May 31.
All Pennsylvania courts are closed to the public, effective through at least Apr. 30 or until further notice, including the state Supreme Court, Superior Court, Commonwealth Court and Courts of Common Pleas. Some functions will continue — status hearings for kids in the foster system, for example — with minimal personal contact.
Philly Traffic Court is open for “essential services” only from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday.
Additionally, PennDOT has extended the deadline for vehicle registrations, safety and emissions inspections set to expire between March 16 through March 31 until April 30.
Sports, events and tourism
All major league sports have suspended play.
The Flyers, who were set to go on a promising Stanley Cup run, are asking fans to hold onto their tickets as they work to figure out whether the NHL playoffs will be rescheduled.
Spring training is on hold for the Phillies, and the MLB has pushed back Opening Day by at least two weeks to mid-April. The team has committed $1 million toward paying workers at Citizens Bank Park during the suspension of play.
The NBA was one of the leagues hardest hit by the virus, with dozens of players testing positive for COVID-19. Games have been suspended until further notice. Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall is reportedly being considered to host the playoffs — albeit without any spectators.
NFL trades and acquisitions are continuing almost as normal during the time of free agency, and the Eagles continue to make moves.
Tourism and events
Following guidance from the CDC, gatherings of more than 50 people are banned in Philadelphia, which has wreaked havoc on the city’s tourism industry. At least eight of this year’s 20 major conventions have been canceled so far, according to the PHLCVB.
The city announced on Monday afternoon that the annual Broad Street Run has been postponed to Oct. 4. Participants who have already registered will automatically have their registration transferred.
Many of the region’s major cultural attractions, including museums and Independence National Historical Park, have opened virtual tours or activities during the shutdown.
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How to get unemployment
If you’re out of a job because of coronavirus-related business closures, you could get unemployment or worker’s comp pay. Apply for benefits immediately if you’re in that situation, officials say.
Pennsylvania has changed requirements so more people will qualify for benefits, and waived work search mandates attached to receiving them. You could be eligible for benefits even if you’re not yet laid off, if your job requires you to be exposed to the coronavirus. The quickest way to file is online here. Get more details about eligibility and the procedure here.