City health commissioner warns of rising COVID cases, threat of summer heat waves

Posted 7/7/20

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley during a streamed press conference last month. by Kate Dolan Editor’s note: Throughout the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, the …

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City health commissioner warns of rising COVID cases, threat of summer heat waves

Posted
Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley during a streamed press conference last month.

by Kate Dolan

Editor’s note: Throughout the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, the Local regularly reported on the daily press conferences held by Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley, Mayor Jim Kenney and other city officials. This week we will begin reporting a weekly summary of those conferences, which now take place one or two times a week.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner. Dr. Thomas Farley addressed the growing daily case counts, while expressing optimism about vaccine development at the city’s COVID-19 press conference last week.

As of the conference on July 2, the city is averaging 110 cases per day. US cases are more than 80% higher now than they were 14 days ago and Farley added that cases among younger people are climbing, citing that a third of the new cases over the last two weeks were people under the age of 30.

As of July 4, 26,565 cases are confirmed in Philadelphia with 1,617 confirmed deaths. Daily count cases are on the rise in every region of Pennsylvania as Philadelphia stays in its modified, restricted green phase of reopening.

“The second wave has got to be disheartening, after so much progress you’ve made, it’s got to be frustrating to see case rates rise here as well as around the rest of the country,” Farley said. “It is clear that we will be living with this virus for a long time, but the situation isn’t forever, there is some hope.”

Farley referred to a New York Times vaccine development webpage that summarizes vaccine progress. There were three in particular he called promising, for the immune response and antibody production they were exhibiting in experimental animals. He pointed out another, “the farthest along,” as engaged in human trials of over 10,000 people in the UK, South Africa and Brazil.

“It really appears to be that it’s easy to train the immune system to recognize and kill this virus. Much easier than with other viruses, much easier than I would have expected,” he said. “COVID-19 is nasty, but it looks like it’s not very smart.”

Considering a few things, like the time it takes to complete trials and then develop hundreds of millions of dosages, Farley said he is “optimistic that we will have at least one, and maybe more than one, vaccine that we are deploying here in Philadelphia some time in 2021.”

In the meantime, Farley reminded businesses and Philadelphia residents to continue following safety precautions, saying that the city will be launching a media campaign this week about the importance of wearing masks.

He urged working from home and restated that indoor dining and the opening of fitness centers were put on pause, an announcement initially made earlier in the week at Tuesday’s conference.

The heat is of concern this summer as many people will be staying home and options to cool off are not as accessible as prior years, such as city pools and trips to the shore.

“More people die from heat as a risk than all other natural disasters combined,” Farley said. “More people die from heatwaves than hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados and floods.”

At most risk to the dangers of a heatwave are many of the same people at risk of COVID-19, the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions, according to both Farley and Najja Orr, President and CEO of Philadelphia Corporation for Aging and special guest at Thursday’s conference. Orr urged Philadelphians to check on their neighbors and to use the Heatline at PCA (215-765-9040) during a heatwave to learn about precautions and how to detect early symptoms.

“The PCA estimates that 36% of all people age 60 and older live alone in the city,” Orr said. “So, we are encouraging everyone to check up on people you know who may be at risk for either social isolation or vulnerable for the heat during summer months.”

Managing Director Brian Abernathy opened the press conference announcing that PECO has extended its moratorium on utility shut-offs until further notice and reminded residents of the state’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Programs Recovery Crisis program for more assistance. For more information and resources, visit phila.gov/COVID-19.

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