Kenney announces first COVID-19 death of a Philly cop

By KYW Newsradio 1060

UPDATED: 7:37 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Mayor Jim Kenney announced on Monday the first COVID-19 death of a city employee: Lt. James Walker of the Philadelphia Police Department's traffic division.

Kenney said at the city's daily media briefing that Walker died on Sunday at Abington Hospital-Jefferson Health from the infection.

"This weekend, we lost a friend, a family member, a hero," said the mayor. "Any death is tragic, but today, it hits close to home."

In a statement released by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, President John McNesby said, "It’s with a heavy heart that we send our deepest condolences to this officer’s family. ... We should never forget the sacrifices of our officers and those on the frontlines battling this pandemic and working tirelessly to keep our great city safe."

Walker joined the force in 1987 and worked among many police districts, as well as assignments in Internal Affairs and the Narcotics Strike Force. 

The 59-year-old Philadelphia resident planned to retire in December.

“The loss of his life illustrates the commitment that he and members of the Philadelphia Police Department have to serve the communities of this city, even in times of unprecedented risk and challenge,” said Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw. 

With a coronavirus surge anticipated in the Philadelphia region, Outlaw said officers will follow protocols in place to reduce the risk of exposure: keep a social distance, wear personal protective equipment, and to call in a specialized unit, if necessary. Every officer has been given an N95 mask.

City leaders are investigating if Walker contracted the virus while on the job.

Philadelphia Managing Director Brian Abernathy would not confirm the number of police officers or firefighters who have coronavirus because he said he did not see the benefit of giving out that information.

He added the city feels “comfortable” with the number of officers on duty.

Sources say four homicide detectives, all within the Special Investigations Unit, have tested positive — all are doing OK.

SEPTA deaths

Two SEPTA workers have died from coronavirus. SETPA told KYW Newsradio one of those employees worked at the South Philly Depot, the other at the Elmwood Trolley Depot.

SEPTA’s workers union confirmed that death to NBC10.

Case count

Walker's was one of two new COVID-19 deaths in the city confirmed by the Department of Public Health, bringing the total to 45.

Health officials confirmed an additional 539 coronavirus cases in the city, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 3,728.

Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley attributed the large increase from Sunday to a backlog in lab testing. Some labs do not report results over the weekend.

Farley noted that 18 fatalities were among nursing home residents. He reiterated that clusters of positive cases are coming from congregate settings, such as nursing homes, behavioral health facilities and prisons. A total of 54 prison inmates have tested positive.

Farley hopes federal officials are right when they said cases will peak this week and then go down, but he said there’s too much uncertainty to be sure.

“I don’t think anybody can predict when it’s going to top out, so I don’t think we should be believing it’s going to top out this week and then get better after that,” he said.

The city is expecting an increase in the number of deaths to mirror the increase in the number of cases.

“We are likely to see an increase in the number of new deaths reported each day because deaths lag the increase in the number of cases. We’ve had a sharp increase in the number of cases in the past two or three weeks, so we’re going to expect an increase in deaths in the next couple of weeks as well.”

He said social distancing continues to be the best prevention. A survey shows 93% of residents are following the recommendations at least somewhat closely.

“I’d give the city a good B+, but if we could do better, that would help prevent the spread of this infection,” he added.

Testing sites and field hospitals

Farley announced at the briefing that the Citizens Bank Park testing facility will be discontinued on Friday, April 10, at 6 p.m., because that is when federal support of the site is scheduled to end.

Unused testing kits at the site will be distributed to other testing sites in the city to expand their capacity, Farley said. And any leftover personal protective equipment will go to hospitals and long-term care facilities. A testing location in Center City, announced last week, will continue to serve people with COVID-19 symptoms who are over the age of 50 or who are health care workers, e.g., clinicians, EMS providers, nursing home workers, home care workers, non-clinical staff with direct patient contact, behavioral health workers, and people who work in congregate settings such as homeless shelters and prisons.

The site is available by appointment and requires a referral. Call 267-491-5870 to obtain a referral.

Kenney also said he visited the Liacouras Center, which is outfitted as a temporary hospital space in case the city's hospitals are overwhelmed. 

Recycling schedule

City officials announced over the weekend that, because of low staffing, the schedule for recyclable materials has been revised from once a week to once every two weeks, from April 13 through at least May 15.

Starting Monday, residents are advised to hold their recycling for next week.

Regular trash collection schedules will continue as close to normal as possible, depending on employee attendance, though there will be occasional delays as the coronavirus crisis continues.