This story will be updated frequently with the most recent information
Latest: Apr. 3, 1:10 p.m.
Find the rest of Billy Penn’s COVID-19 coverage here
The global pandemic has locked down the Philadelphia region. Nonessential businesses are shut down, and Mayor Jim Kenney issued a “stay at home” order for the city, effective Mar. 23.
It’s all intended to slow the coronavirus outbreak and minimize spread of the sometimes fatal disease it causes, COVID-19.
The unprecedented situation continues to change quickly. Latest news includes Pennsylvania leading the nation in unemployment claims, a new walkup test site in Center City and the (limited) opening of LCB’s ecommerce store for wine and spirits.
Stay in the know about the local situation 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 won’t get shut off
- 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
Philly and PA
Philadelphia: Of 12,025 people tested, there are at least 2,430 positive COVID-19 cases. There have been at least 26 related deaths. The city updates its numbers daily here.
Pennsylvania: Of 62,105 people tested, there are at least 8,420 positives and 102 deaths. The state maintains this daily updated county-by-county breakdown.
Pennsylvania’s primary election is likely to be postponed to June 2. You can request a mail-in ballot now. Income tax filings have been postponed to July 15 — that’s now the state and federal deadline — which means the commonwealth is about to face a major cash crunch.
Mayor Kenney has declined to estimate what toll the pandemic could take on the city budget, saying things are changing too quickly to know. City Council has allocated $85 million in emergency coronavirus funds for Philly, which includes $400,000 in relief money for lawmakers to spend as they see fit.
The Philly Health Department’s weekday 1 p.m. briefings are being held virtually. Text COVIDPHL to 888-777 to get updates sent to your phone. So far, over 74,000 people have signed up.
Across the country, more than 1.1 million people have been tested, with more than 184,770 reported positives. At least 26,660 people have been hospitalized, with 3,746 recorded deaths. 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
Philadelphia, in partnership with state and federal governments, is running a test site at the South Philly sports complex. You do not need a doctor’s note to visit, but officials are giving priority to health care workers and people over 50 who are experiencing symptoms. The city-run location is only accepting drive-up customers.
For most of the test sites around Philadelphia, of which there are around 23, 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.
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. Here’s more on who can get tested, and where.
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 first ordered all schools in the entire state to close for at least two weeks — then he extended it another two weeks, and then he extended it indefinitely. As of March 30, the date when students will go back to school is TBD.
All standardized testing in Pennsylvania has been canceled for the rest of the academic year.
Philadelphia initially pushed back against the school closure edict, especially because a majority of the 200,000 public school students in Philly live in poverty and depend on schools for breakfast and lunch. To mitigate that, officials have set up dozens of sites around the city to provide free meals to students during the shutdown. They’re open on Mondays and Thursdays, and on each day a student can collect six meals — three breakfasts and three 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 reversed its stance. It now says it will obtain and provide devices and broadband access to students in order to start 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 50,000 Chromebooks so students could start remote learning. It also gave Superintendent William Hite emergency powers for the next month, 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 won’t get shut off
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 May 1, 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).
Is transportation running?
SEPTA has ramped up sanitation on all modes of travel and at stations, cleaning everything at least 3x daily. SEPTA is suspending overnight service on the Market-Frankford and Broad Street Lines between 1 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. starting Monday, Mar. 30 for extra cleaning. Regional Rail is running on an essential service schedule, and the Cynwyd Line will now run Monday through Friday only. All bus, subway and trolley lines are running on Saturday schedules until further notice. Also, all buses with cloth seats are being pulled out of service, because plastic seating is much easier to clean.
The authority is also asking people to avoid taking public transit unless absolutely necessary. Riders with March monthly passes can call 855-567-3782 to request refunds or credits.
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 Apr. 30.
PATCO trains are running on reduced schedules, with 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.
More than 1,000 contracted workers at PHL have been laid off so far as the airline industry faces huge revenue drops and seeks a federal bailout. On Saturday the FAA briefly suspended all flights in the region for lack of air control staff.
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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.
Parks, trails and athletic fields remain open, with park maintenance like trash pickup ongoing. 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. weekdays.
The city is encouraging people to go outside and get exercise during the lockdown, as long as you stay 6 feet away from one another. In order 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.
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. Also, while all state-run Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores are closed, local distilleries are providing ways to re-up your supply without putting anyone in danger.
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 Apr. 13.
All Pennsylvania courts are closed to the public, effective through at least Apr. 3 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. So far three members of the Sixers organization have tested positive. Games have been suspended until further notice.
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.
The U.S. Dept of Labor told states to stop releasing how many people have filed for unemployment so it can report collective numbers weekly. Before that mandate, however, Pa. received 174,000 claims over three days last week — a new record.