Philly’s coronavirus response

City closes South Philly test site despite FEMA reversal, looks for rapid testing instead

In contrast, the federally-supported site in Montco will stay open.

The drive-through coronavirus testing center at Citizens Bank Park

The drive-through coronavirus testing center at Citizens Bank Park

Emma Lee / WHYY

Philadelphia will still shut down its coronavirus test site at the sports complex, despite FEMA reversing plans to cut off support, Mayor Kenney confirmed Friday.

The mayor said he hopes to direct the support to other pandemic-fighting purposes instead.

“What we need is rapid testing, and if we can exchange the closure of the South Philly site for rapid testing material, that’ll do more for us,” Kenney said as he toured Temple’s Liacouras Center, which has been set up to accept potential hospital overflow.

Located next to Citizens Bank Park, Philly’s drive-through test site was one of many in the region, most of which are still operating. (Find a list here.)

The South Philly site was set up in partnership with the federal government, which helped arrange 41 similar facilities around the country. There has been no direct financial support provided, city Health Commissioner Tom Farley clarified during Friday’s briefing — no money changing hands. What FEMA provided was materials like swabs and personal protective equipment.

This aid was slated to end on Apr. 10, but after outcry, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it was extending the support. A new end date has not yet been announced.

Montgomery County, which also received federal funds for testing, is now planning to keep its FEMA test site open.

“I’m relieved that HHS has reversed its decision which would have closed our community testing site in Montgomery County,” said a statement from Montco Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, who advocated for the funds to continue.

In Philadelphia, the federally-supported site processed just 7% of the city’s total tests, according to Health Commissioner Thomas Farley. It was also frequently forced to suspend operation because of rain or high winds. It did not open on Friday, its intended final day, because of weather. The plan is to keep it closed and redistribute its resources.

“We’re taking all the other testing material and dispersing it to all the other hospital areas and other sites that are doing testing,” Kenney said, “so I don’t think we’re gonna miss a beat.”

The mayor also noted that health experts now consider the kind of testing used at the South Philly site — done via nasal swab sent to a separate lab, with results turned around in several days — less valuable than rapid tests would be.

Will Philadelphia roll out rapid testing? Unclear.

Nearby Chester County has started using a new rapid coronavirus test that uses a blood sample and gives results in 15 minutes. It has 10,000 copies of the test, and is giving them to workers at nursing homes, youth centers, prisons, and other important group facilities, WHYY reported.

According to Health Commissioner Farley, Philly so far has only 100 of these tests, which work by searching for antibodies to the virus.

Farley’s team is currently assessing the accuracy of these tests, he said Thursday. He also expressed concern the city wouldn’t be able to obtain enough of them for everyone who needs one, leaving ethical quandaries about who should get them, and when.

Want some more? Explore other Philly’s coronavirus response stories.

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