Philadelphia City Council members pushed back on Health Commissioner Thomas Farley on Wednesday for his lack of commitment to a reopening date for the city.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday that Pennsylvania would lift all coronavirus limits on Memorial Day, allowing restaurants, bars, stores, and other businesses and events to resume operations without restrictions. New Jersey and New York also announced this week that many of their restrictions would be lifted May 19.
“If it’s just the city of Philadelphia that is actually not open, our residents are going to other places and doing what they want to do and then coming back into the city of Philadelphia,” Councilmember Mark Squilla told Farley during the health department’s budget hearing Wednesday.
But Farley repeated Wednesday that he does not yet feel comfortable setting a date for reopening Philadelphia, which has been more restrictive than the rest of the state for much of the pandemic.
“I don’t know where we’re going to be at the end of May as far as how many people are vaccinated and how many cases are occurring out there, but I do think there’s a risk in opening up too early,” Farley said.
Farley said about 60 people a week are dying of the coronavirus, and he cannot be certain that case rates will continue to fall. And he said it could take months to vaccinate people who are not eager to get shots, as supply now exceeds demand.
About 44% of residents age 16 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to city data.
Wolf said the state’s mask mandate would remain in place until 70% of the population is vaccinated, and President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he has a goal of 70% of American adults with at least one dose by July 4.
In answer to a question from Council President Darrell L. Clarke about the possibility of reaching a vaccination rate of 80%, Farley said that figure would dramatically reduce the risk of the coronavirus spreading — but said that might not be achievable.
“I think it’s too early to say whether we’re going to be able to achieve this, so I think we need to be cautious in our predictions right now,” Farley said.
But some councilmembers pushed back, saying that the city cannot base its policies on the group of residents who refuse vaccination. Councilmember Derek Green noted that tourists and groups planning conventions may choose other cities where opening dates are set.
“I just think that we’re going to be the only ones with really, really restrictive requirements after the end of this month,” Councilmember Allan Domb said. “That’s something we should adjust.”