Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday said he remained optimistic that Pennsylvania could soon reach a level of immunity that allows life to return to a semblance of normalcy, as its neighbors to the east and north took their biggest steps yet to fully reopen.
“I don’t think anybody wants to drag their feet on this,” Wolf said of reopening, during an appearance in Philadelphia. “We just want to be safe.”
The Wells Fargo Center, where Wolf elbow-bumped with Flyers mascot Gritty, was the governor’s latest stop on a statewide tour in a bid to combat vaccine hesitancy, reassure Pennsylvanians that the shots are safe and effective, and underscore the benefits of mass vaccination.
Half of all Pennsylvania residents had received at least one vaccination as of Monday.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to see more people in the stands?” the governor added, gesturing to the empty arena. (The Flyers have just three more home games this season.) “Listen to Gritty, and take your shot.”
Wolf’s comments came on the same day New Jersey announced it would lift pandemic crowd restrictions and reopen businesses at full capacity later this month in a regional agreement with New York and Connecticut, which will do the same by mid-May.
Philadelphia is set to have some restrictions on indoor catered events and indoor dining ease Friday, thanks to dropping case counts in the city.
Wolf indicated optimism despite decreased demand for the COVID-19 vaccine in places such as Philadelphia — a drop he called “normal” for this stage in the rollout.
The city’s mass clinics have seen demand plummet since all adults became eligible for the vaccine. Last Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Convention Center clinic’s daily total of shots administered had fallen to between 500 and 1,000 over the previous few days — far below the 6,000 a day it can deliver. And the FEMA-run clinic at Esperanza in Hunting Park had also given only a few hundred per day compared to its capacity for at least 1,000, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.
Officials said Monday that the slowdown won’t affect the federal government’s plan to keep the Convention Center clinic running. It will remain open until May 26, FEMA spokesperson Charlie Elison said, and is then expected to close.
About 4,000 of the 6,000 shots available at the clinic daily come from federal vaccine supplies; the other 2,000 come from the city Health Department and could be reallocated to other providers after the site closes. So far, the city hasn’t redistributed those shots each day because demand across the city has not been high enough to need them, spokesperson James Garrow said.
The number of vaccinations at the Convention Center is expected to pick up again Wednesday, when the site will start providing second doses to people who received their first Pfizer shots three weeks ago.
Statewide, the average daily number of new cases has declined for two weeks straight, though at 3,204 on Monday it remained higher than even in mid-to-late March, before the recent small surge. The trend in hospitalizations is also starting to fall, the Pennsylvania Department of Health said Monday.
“It’s really important we get back to normal as quickly as we can, and vaccines are the key to that,” said Wolf, who was in the city to applaud the Philadelphia Flyers’ campaign to promote the vaccine, in partnership with Penn Medicine, the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, and the city of Philadelphia. “We need more Pennsylvanians to get the vaccine.”
The governor said he would like to see more sports teams follow the Flyers’ lead in encouraging vaccinations.
“We’re looking for all kinds of ways to get people to overcome the hesitancy,” Wolf said. “And most of it is sort of [people] sitting on the fence, [where] there’s not a profound antipathy to vaccines.”