Mayor Jim Kenney on Friday announced Philadelphia’s “Safer at Home” plan for entering the “yellow” phase of reopening parts of the economy on June 5, including office-based businesses, manufacturing, and retail.
Kenney stressed that the incremental loosening of restrictions on business and social activities does not mean that Philadelphia has beat the coronavirus or that residents should give up on social distancing practices to prevent its spread.
“We are still safer at home and should only leave to engage in essential activities,” Kenney said. “It is clear that the work of Philadelphians so far has put us in a much safer place than we were two months ago, but we are not out of the woods yet.”
Kenney called the plan a “mini-step forward” and said residents should still avoid large gatherings. Businesses that are more likely to be venues for spreading the virus, like bars and restaurants, will remain closed. Child care centers, outdoor day camps, and warehouse operations will be able to resume.
“We’re ready to put our toe in the water and see how everybody behaves and how everybody reacts,” he said.
The new plan establishes rules for businesses operations that are reopening, including allowing no more than five customers per 1,000 square feet in stores, wiping down frequently touched surfaces every four hours, posting signs with the rules, spacing cash registers six feet apart, and offering customers hand sanitizer upon entry.
The plan amounts to Philadelphia’s modified version of the state’s “yellow" phase, which Gov. Tom Wolf previously announced all counties, including those in hard-hit Southeastern Pennsylvania, will be moving to in one week.
The virus, however, continues to afflict Philadelphians. Public Health Commissioner Thomas reported 255 new confirmed cases Friday, for a total of 22,405 since the pandemic began. Additionally, 20 more city residents have died from COVID-19, bringing total fatalities in the city to 1,278, Farley said.
He added that if cases increase in the next week, the city may postpone its plan to loosen restrictions.
“If you follow the daily case count numbers, they have not fallen as fast in the past few days as they have in the days before then. But we are getting more testing. More testing is a good sign, so we had to take that into account,” Farley said. “If the numbers look bad between now and June 5, we’re going to delay this.”
One key difference between the state’s yellow phase and Kenney’s “Safer at Home” plan concerns gatherings. The state allows social and religious gatherings of up to 25 people in the yellow phase. The city, while not prohibiting such events, said it is strongly discouraging any congregations of people.
“While these are permitted under the state’s order, we are not recommending the gatherings of any size,” Farley said. “If you have 25 people coming together and singing, for example, there is really a risk of spreading from one person to another.”
Other differences include the city’s continued prohibition on swimming clubs operating and its plan for allowing outdoor dining at restaurants. The state’s yellow phase allows outdoor dining, but managing director Brian Abernathy said the city is still working on a plan to permit restaurants to use outdoor spaces and does not plan to allow it starting on June 5.
Farley said the city will also be monitoring early warning signs that the virus may be spreading more rapidly as the economy begins to reopen, such as hospital emergency room reports. If cases spike, he said, the city may reinstitute stronger restrictions on commercial and social activities.
Details of what activities will be allowed on June 5 can be found here.
To the extent possible, city inspectors will monitor businesses to ensure compliance, but Farley said the city is asking residents to voluntarily comply.
“These rules will be enforced as much as possible through city inspectors," he said. “We recognize that there are not enough inspectors to be in every store and every organization across the city of Philadelphia every day, and so we are asking, we are imploring businesses and other activity organizers to do their own enforcement and take this seriously.”