Philadelphia is opening 12 new coronavirus test sites to expand capacity in underserved neighborhoods and inch the city toward reopening the economy, officials announced Thursday.
Located at existing health centers, the expanded test sites will help move the city closer to containing the pandemic’s stranglehold on the city, said Philadelphia Health Commissioner Tom Farley.
Eight new sites are now operating out of city-owned health clinics. An additional four test operations will begin at privately run health centers within the next week.
Officials also said several other testing sites are in planning, including one in Kensington.
The criteria to get tested at one of the new facilities is the same at other existing sites around the city: you have to be over the age of 50 and experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, or be a healthcare worker or first responder.
Philly’s count of confirmed cases — which likely represent a fraction of the total actual cases circulating among the population — has been steady over the last week at about 500 to 600 new cases a day.
“The fact that we have a level case count is a sign we’re making progress,” Farley said, cautioning that “our best tool today” is continued social distancing.
“You have to assume everyone you come in contact with has the infection,” he added.
The city’s health department partnered with the Health Federation of Philadelphia to identify federally qualified health centers that can operate more testing sites.
Qualified providers must meet certain conditions: The sites must be opened for testing three days a week and providing the city with regular data on its diagnoses. Those that agreed to participate did so on condition that the city would provide PPE and testing materials, as possible.
“We’re supplying them as long as we have them,” Farley said.
Health experts widely agree that re-opening the local economy will be expedited by increased testing and contact tracing — the practice of identifying everyone who may have been in close contact with a newly infected person.
Early governmental efforts at contact tracing were undone by the virus’s rapid spread throughout the region, though Penn is now overseeing a new effort.
Thursday marked the one month anniversary since the city’s stay-at-home orders went into effect, Kenney said, noting that the city still has a long way to go before the larger economy can re-open.
“One month in, the threat of this virus is still very much with us,” Kenney said.