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Philadelphia is tapping the brakes on reopening after key coronavirus metrics appear to have plateaued instead of continuing their downward trend.
Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley on Friday warned that as it stands, Philly is not ready to move into the modified “green” phase on July 3. In an effort to mitigate what looks like a potential rise in COVID spread, he announced mandatory mask-wearing order for the city, effective immediately.
Masks are now required whenever you’re indoors (outside of your home) and whenever you’re outdoors within 6 feet of other people. The order does not apply to kids under 8 years old, and will not be enforced by police, Farley noted.
The caution stems from a few things, including the massive surge in other regions of the country, and an uptick in positivity rate within the city itself — which appears most prevalent among residents 20 years old or younger.
In Philadelphia, after a month and a half of steady decline, the 7-day average positivity rate has plateaued around 5% or 6%.
That’s the case even though the number of daily tests continues to rise.
Meanwhile, states like Texas, Florida and Arizona are seeing huge spikes in the number of positive cases reported, and though the surge is in a different region of the country, nationwide totals have returned to levels matching or exceeding the mid-April peak that was concentrated in the U.S. Northeast.
Notably, an increase in the number of people dying from COVID-19 has not yet followed the spike in positives. That’s true for the big jump in other states, and also the small bump in Philadelphia.
There are a few potential explanations for this. One undeniable factor is health care professionals’ increased knowledge about how to deal with the virus and its effects on patients, as well as experience with how to allocate crucial supplies like ventilators and PPE.
Another potential contributing factor: the age of people testing positive.
In the city, teens and young adults are increasingly catching COVID, while the number of cases among senior adults continues to drop. There’s also been a slight rise in people in the middle age groups — these are folks most likely to have returned to the workforce as the regional economy slowly reopens.
Here’s a closeup of the last few weeks.
So far, Philly officials have not rolled back any of their relaxed restrictions. Salons and spas, private pools and outdoor dining are all being allowed to continue. But whether or not additional facilities will be allowed to restart on July 3 — indoor restaurant service, gyms, libraries, malls — is still up in the air, Farley said.
Business owners who’ve been planning for the Friday target are frustrated, but Mayor Jim Kenney said he’d much rather reopen safely than be in the situation currently playing out in Texas, where previously opened activities are now being shut down again.
What can you do to help? Continue social distancing and wearing masks, and spread the word about their effectiveness.