Philadelphia City Council approves $85M for coronavirus relief

UPDATED: 4:40 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — It only took 12 minutes on Thursday for Philadelphia City Council to unanimously pass the Kenney administration’s request for $85 million to fight COVID-19.

It was not only perhaps the shortest meeting in Council’s history, but it was the first one conducted with most of the members calling in from home.

The bill was introduced just three weeks ago, but with the speed at which the virus has moved, Council President Darrell Clarke said it already seems outdated.

“It has changed so dramatically — beyond my belief — so $85 million will not be all we need to get us through this,” he said.

Council will continue to meet via tele-conference until the statewide stay-at-home order is lifted. Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all Pennsylvanians to stay home except for essential needs until at least April 30. 

The next City Council sessions are set for April 16. Clarke said he’s figuring out a way to conduct budget hearings remotely.

“We’re required by the charter to have a budget by the end of May, and unfortunately, I think we’ll be in emergency status for a long, long time,” he added.

Mayor Jim Kenney later signed the COVID-19 ordinance.

“Making these funds available is critical to protecting the health of Philadelphians, and our administration will continue to collaborate with Council to manage this difficult situation,” he said.

The $85 million will go toward testing sites and supplies, personal protective equipment for health care workers, essential city services, and quarantine locations, like the Center City Holiday Inn Express.

Cases in the thousands

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health announced 425 additional coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the cumulative total in the city to 2,100.

The department also confirmed two more fatalities, bringing the total to 17.

Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley said many cases are clustered in nursing homes, behavioral health facilities and prisons. The Philadelphia Department of Prisons currently has 20 confirmed cases.

Each day, the number of newly confirmed cases grows by another 100 or so, and Farley said more are requiring hospitalization.

“Hospitals are preparing for the increase in patients they expect to see in the future,” he said. “They are already seeing an increase in patients with this infection in the hospital.”

Still, he said, there have been fewer cases in the emergency departments, and there is still plenty of capacity.

Farley said it will take a few more weeks before officials can tell if stay-at-home orders are helping to flatten the curve.

“It’s too early to say for sure now. It takes a while from when changes happen out there in the community and when we start to see it in our data,” he explained.

During the daily press briefing on Thursday, officials also noted the Streets Department is a day behind and will work through the weekend to collect all trash and recycling. Officials said they’re behind due to staff calling out, though not necessarily because they’re sick. 

The city said if trash is not picked up on your regular collection day, leave it out and workers will come by to get it soon.

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

More computers for Philly students

There's another donation of laptops for Philly schools — this time, for charter and Catholic school students, so that they can learn online during the coronavirus closures.

The nonprofit Philadelphia School Partnership announced an effort to buy 15,000 Chromebooks for students in 100 charter and Catholic schools. The Jump Start Philly Schools Fund is being launched with nearly $4 million in donations.

This comes as the Philadelphia School District is buying 50,000 Chromebooks for district students. That $11 million price tag is being partially covered by a $5 million donation from the family of Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, and $2 million from 76ers owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer.

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KYW Newsradio's Mike DeNardo contributed to this report.