Health officials announce first coronavirus-related death in Philadelphia

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UPDATED: 3:49 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia health officials announced the first coronavirus-related death in the city on Wednesday.

“Every death is a tragedy,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley. “We don't want to discuss this simply as statistics.”

He would not give any other details as to give confidentiality to the family, but Farley did say the person who died was a man in his 50s with an underlying health condition.

“The death of this resident is a reminder of the extremely serious nature of this pandemic,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. “The unfortunate reality is that there will likely be more deaths as the number of cases grow, which is why our stay-at-home order is essential. This virus is very real, and deadly. So when we tell residents to stay at home, to avoid even small gatherings on the street corner, we are not messing around.”

“We can’t save everyone but we want to save as many people as possible,” Farley added, “which is why we’re taking all the steps we can to try to slow the spread of this infection.”

Farley also announced 93 new cases on Wednesday, and the total across Philadelphia is now 342.

Twelve patients are under the age of 20; 163 are between ages 20 and 39; 85 are between ages 40 and 59; and 82 are over the age of 60. Thirty-seven patients are confirmed to be health care workers.

Also among the total number of cases are city workers, including members of the Philadelphia Police Department and the Philadelphia Fire Department.

Following guidance from the White House, Farley asks that anyone who has traveled to the New York City metro area — including all five boroughs and neighboring suburban counties — in the last two weeks and is now residing in Philadelphia to self-quarantine for at least 14 days. New York currently has the highest amount of cases across the U.S.

Also on Wednesday, the mayor praised the agreement in Congress on a federal COVID-19 aid package, noting it will help Philadelphia weather the economic damage from the stay-at-home measures.

“I’m very pleased to see that some of this package includes direct aid to cities and counties,” he said. “It’s extremely important that these dollars get to cities as expeditiously as possible.”

Push for more bed space

At a daily press briefing on Tuesday, Philadelphia officials complained that their efforts to prepare for a potential surge in cases are being stymied by what they called “unreasonable” demands by the owner of the shuttered Hahnemann University Hospital.

They are attempting to re-open Hahnemann to provide additional beds, but city Managing Director Brian Abernathy said owner Joel Freedman has made it difficult.

“I think he’s looking at this as a business transaction rather than providing imminent and important aid to our residents,” he said.

Freedman is asking $2.4 million for a six-month lease. Sam Singer, a spokesman for Freedman, said Freedman is disappointed in Abernathy’s comments.

“We’re disappointed in the city’s remarks because we want to be helpful,” Singer said. “(Freedman) wants the community to benefit from the use of this hospital but also wants to safeguard his investment."

Singer said the $2.4 million he’s asking for is equivalent to $27 per room per day.

Archdiocese cancels public Easter celebrations

There will be no public celebrations of Easter Sunday and related rites in churches throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Camden this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In an email to priests throughout the five-county archdiocese, Dennis Gill, the director of the office for divine worship, advised clerics that they will still be required to celebrate Masses and the rites for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday. However, the public cannot attend.

Similar guidance is offered for priests in Camden.

Pastors are advised to bless palms for the faithful on Palm Sunday, but they should be stored for later distribution.

The Easter Vigil, where new members of the church are welcomed publicly, is to be held privately. However, the sacramental in-person initiation ceremonies are to take place at a later time.

Gill advised pastors to invite parishioners to unite in prayer with the clergy during the times of the various celebrations.

Archbishop Nelson Perez has been live-streaming his 11 a.m. Sunday Mass from the Cathedral Basilica since suspending public Masses.

He is likely to do so for Easter Sunday, though the archdiocese has not released his schedule for that period.

President Donald Trump assured the nation that he intends to get the public back to work and back to somewhat normal life by Easter.

Philadelphia Mayor Kenney, however, said Tuesday that the city will not heed the White House if it recommends lifting stay-at-home restrictions before the virus is contained.

“Our health department and other experts are absolutely certain that ignoring the restrictions we have imposed will further spread the virus,” he said. “Leadership from the top has been lacking.”

Pennsylvania schools worry about timeline

Pennsylvania schools are officially closed until at least April 6. But State Education Secretary Pedro Rivera said no matter how long the shutdown lasts, the school year can't stretch into July.

“By statute, we can't extend school past June 30. That's actually when schools fiscally close and then we go into the next year's fiscal cycle,” he said.

In a Wednesday morning conference call with reporters, Rivera repeated that the school shutdown could extend beyond April 6, if the governor and state health secretary declare it's necessary.

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KYW Newsradio’s Pat Loeb, Mark Abrams, Mike DeNardo and Rachel Kurland contributed to this report.