Pennsylvania is experiencing an unprecedented spike in coronavirus cases — even when compared with the early days of the pandemic. In the previous peak, in April, Pennsylvania averaged just fewer than 2,000 new cases a day. On Thursday, Pennsylvania announced 5,000 new cases.
Philadelphia has not been spared, either, and last week reported the highest number of new cases for a single day — 879. The surrounding counties and New Jersey experienced similarly unfortunate “records breaking” days, with hospitalizations also increasing.
Amid this darkness, the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is reason for hope. Unlike Donald Trump, who has downplayed the virus to the point of dismissing it and traded wishful thinking for evidence-based measures, the Biden-Harris transition team is already working with a group of experts on a plan to defeat the virus. Their plan includes doubling the number of drive-through testing sites, hiring 100,000 contact tracers, producing protective gear, mandating masks in public, and providing funds to localities experiencing budget shortfalls. These actions can make a difference.
More reason for hope: On Monday, Pfizer Inc. cited early data from a vaccine trial that suggest a 90% reduction in risk of COVID-19 infection. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading public health official, told CNN that a vaccine could be available for the general public starting in April.
Even under the rosiest timelines, these major improvements will be too late for this current wave of cases. It’s time for hard decisions and difficult sacrifices — and our leaders must set the tone.
For the last few weeks, Philadelphia Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley has been trying to raise the alarm on the increase in cases. In recent weeks, he shared concerns over cases related to workplaces and private social gatherings.
Asking people to stay at home and separated from one another should be reflected in the policies and orders that reinforce that. In other words, don’t discourage families coming together for Thanksgiving if indoor dining and exercise classes remain an option.
The most important thing that Philadelphians can do is to stay at home. Encouraging this might not be enough. Gov. Tom Wolf and Mayor Jim Kenney should impose new restrictions and consider a stay-at-home order, as they rightly imposed in March.
Ordering businesses to further limit capacity or shut down is not a decision to take lightly -- especially as many have been struggling to recover from the first wave. Unfortunately, it works. A new CDC study found that in Delaware, stay-at-home orders and the mask mandate reduced COVID-19 infection and hospitalizations by more than 80% and mortality by 100%.
The Philadelphia School District reversed its reopening plan amid the rise in cases, and after pushback from the teachers' union and parents. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia PolicyLab recommended Wednesday that all schools in the region move to virtual learning as evidence on transmission in schools increases. Montgomery County is reportedly considering this. The more all counties are on the same page, the more effective restrictions will be.
Shutdowns and business restrictions are devastating. If the General Assembly in Harrisburg and Congress had done their jobs, Philadelphia and the region would have been better resourced to weather the economic hit.
It should have happened earlier, but state and federal action is still critical. The General Assembly still didn’t fix the rental assistance program so that federal dollars that were received as part of the CARES Act could be disbursed.
In Washington, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell still didn’t allow a Senate vote on the HEROES Act that the House passed in May. The $3 trillion coronavirus relief includes direct payments to individuals, expanded unemployment benefits, and more assistance to renters and homeowners. All would be critical for Pennsylvania to weather the COVID-19 storm.
More than eight months into the coronavirus pandemic, and much of the Philadelphia region, and the planet, is exhausted. After many tough months, we are facing even harder weeks to come. Thanksgiving may be another family memory that the pandemic robs of us. But now is the time to be more vigilant than ever. With hope that a vaccine is on its way and with the Biden-Harris administration at the helm, this could be the last big push required from us. Until then, stay at home and wear a mask.