Philly opening unclear, but one thing certain: ‘Get a mask’

UPDATED: 4:48 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia officials continue to report progress against COVID-19, but they don't want residents to get too comfortable just yet.

Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley reported 309 new cases on Friday, which includes some older test results. 

The trend continues downward, but it is still far from the amount of cases — 50 or 60 a day — at which officials estimate the city could safely reopen.

Farley also announced 56 more fatalities, but he said, as in previous days, the high number was a result of reconciling different records. The total number of cases in the city is now 21,009. The death toll stands at 1,221.

Still, Farley is urging residents to prepare for a reopening sooner rather than later.

“Whenever we reopen — however we reopen — there will be a new normal,” he said. “That new normal will be different from how things were before the epidemic came. It will involve smaller numbers of people in any kind of interior space. It will involve physical barriers between people, like the Plexiglas shields you see around cash registers to block respiratory droplets from passing from one person to another. It will involve spacing of people, decals on the floor that show you should be 6 feet apart, and it will involve masks. 

“Masks is the one thing that you, individually, have an opportunity to really have control over, so wearing a mask is going to have to become the new normal. As I’ve said before and I’m going to repeat many times, get a mask and get used to wearing it.”

Gov. Tom Wolf announced on Friday that he “anticipates” southeastern Pennsylvania counties currently in the “red” phase of his reopening plan — including the greater Philadelphia area — will move to the “yellow” phase on June 5. By that point, the entire state would be out of the restrictive “red” phase.

Before Wolf's announcement, Farley and Mayor Jim Kenney said they did not know what the governor had planned to say. Philadelphia and its neighboring counties, meanwhile, have been hit harder than the rest of the state and have been working on a regional reopening plan. 

Kenney later added in a statement: “I cannot thank our residents and business owners enough for their tremendous sacrifices during this extremely challenging time. But as we move to the next stage of the response, I need to remind Philadelphians that we are not yet out of the woods. The virus is still very present in our communities. … Because COVID-19 can re-surge at any time, we still need to be smart, wear masks, limit gatherings, work from home as much as possible, and look out for one another. When some sectors of our economy reopen, businesses must do everything possible to keep employees and customers safe.”

The city will release more information next week on what residents need to know about moving to the “yellow” phase. 

Until that day comes, Kenney emphasized that the stay-at-home order is still in full effect.

“The next two weeks are critical — if we see a spike in cases it will jeopardize any hope we have of beginning to reopen.”

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For city resources regarding COVID-19, visit phila.gov/covid-19 or call the Greater Philadelphia Coronavirus Helpline at 1-800-722-7112.