Philadelphia health officials reported 742 new cases of the coronavirus in the city on Friday — the highest daily case count the city has seen throughout the entire pandemic.
That’s partially because testing is more widely available, but the positivity rate of those tests is also high — 14% of the tests reported Friday came back positive, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said. The rate is nearly triple the 5% threshold that experts say is a sign that viral spread is out of control.
Philadelphia also reported five more deaths from the virus on Friday, the end of a week in which both Pennsylvania and New Jersey also set daily case-count records.
In another sign of how serious the health crisis is, the city Municipal Court issued an order Friday continuing the city’s residential eviction moratorium for renters whose income has been affected by the pandemic through Dec. 31. The moratorium had been scheduled to expire Sunday.
Recently, case counts have been trending up rapidly. During the week ending Oct. 31, the city averaged 387 cases per day — the highest weekly case count since early May, at the spring height of the pandemic. In that recent week, 9.1% of tests came back positive, Farley said.
All told, daily case counts have increased by fourfold since late September, and cases are rising across every age group, Farley said. Though not yet close to the surge of hospitalizations in the spring, admissions are on the rise, with the state’s hospital database reporting 267 patients hospitalized in Philadelphia due to COVID-19 as of Friday, up from a low of about 90 in late September, Farley said.
During the week of Oct. 18, 14 people in Philadelphia died from the virus, an increase from about 10 per week in September. More deaths are expected in the coming weeks, Farley said.
“Make no mistake about it — this is a very dangerous period,” he said. “This is possibly the worst period of the entire epidemic.”
Pennsylvania also set another record for new cases Friday as 3,384 cases brought the statewide total to 223,950. Thirty-eight new deaths were reported.
There are 1,599 individuals in the state hospitalized with COVID-19, with 351 of those in intensive care units. Most of the hospitalized patients are age 65 and up.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health said young adults, ages 19 to 24, represent an increasing percentage of those testing positive for COVID-19. In Southeastern Pennsylvania, people in that age group accounted for 5% of cases in April compared to 11% so far in November. They now account for 20% of cases in north-central Pennsylvania.
New Jersey reported 2,199 new cases Friday and 12 deaths of people confirmed to have had coronavirus. That brought its totals to 249,380 cases and 14,616 deaths.
Alarmed by rising case numbers in Camden County, freeholder director Louis Cappelli Jr. Friday told residents they can’t continue with “business as usual” at what may be a critical inflection point.
“We have to return to the war-like mindset we embodied in the spring,” he said in a written release.
Farley said the virus is spreading largely through relatively small social gatherings, highlighting three cases city staffers uncovered through contact tracing to demonstrate how dangerous social interactions can be.
In one case, a woman attended a wedding, where she was among guests infected with COVID-19. She then passed the infection to her son. He died two weeks later.
In another, a woman attended brunch with five friends and then went to her job at a day-care center. She and three of the friends at that brunch later tested positive for COVID-19, and every student at the day-care center had to quarantine.
Farley highlighted a third case where a woman attended a funeral, caught the virus from a relative, and then went to work before her symptoms showed. She exposed five coworkers, and while waiting for her test results, exposed two friends and five family members.
Farley said Philadelphians should assume that everyone — including themselves — could have the virus but don’t know it, and therefore should always wear a mask and maintain social distance whenever leaving home. Everyone who can should work from home, he said, and “stay away from others unless absolutely necessary."
Holiday gatherings should be held over videoconference, he said.
Farley said, based on the health department’s observations, only about 75% of Philadelphians are wearing masks while leaving retail stores. That number should be closer to 95%, he said.
The health department is asking business owners and retailers to tell customers they must wear masks inside.
Farley did not announce any new government restrictions to limit public gatherings during the pandemic, but he said that city officials are looking at “a range of options we might want to put in place” and consulting with state health officials as well as those in Philadelphia’s suburban counties. “Everything is on the table,” he said.
Eviction moratorium extended
Protections have been extended for all renters during the pandemic, with the city Municipal Court issuing an order Friday continuing the city’s residential eviction moratorium through Dec. 31 rather than ending it on Sunday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered a nationwide residential eviction moratorium in September that extends through the end of the year, but it does not apply to all tenants. Renters have to have tried to get governmental rental assistance, paid as much as they could afford in rent, and lost income because of the pandemic.
They also must be facing homelessness or crowded housing conditions if they were to be evicted. Renters then have to submit a form to their landlords swearing they meet these and other guidelines.
A City Council bill that would have extended the moratorium, as well as a ban on late fees and timelines for rent repayment plans, stalled in committee last month.
According to Friday’s court order, landlords can seek to be exempted from the moratorium if, for example, tenants are breaking terms of their leases unrelated to nonpayment of rent.
Help urged for long-term care facilities
Also on Friday, Pennsylvania state officials made a plea for extended federal funding of a program that uses teams from some of the state’s largest health systems to help long-term care facilities respond quickly to new outbreaks of COVID-19.
Frail residents of nursing and personal care homes are at especially high risk for serious illness and death when they contract the virus.
The state created Regional Response Health Collaboratives that work with systems like Geisinger, UPMC, and, in this region, Penn Medicine, Jefferson Health, Main Line Health, Temple University Hospital, and Lehigh Valley Health Network. When someone at a facility tests positive, experts from the health systems help make sure there’s enough staff and testing and that infected residents are grouped in a way that prevents further spread, officials said at a press briefing.
Teresa Miller, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, called the program an “absolutely incredible resource.” She said she believes the state will be able to provide funding for it until the end of the year. It was allocated $175 million, starting in July. “All of us are very concerned this program could disappear when it is needed most,” she said.
Staff writer Michaelle Bond contributed to this report.