Philly Coronavirus News: Social Distancing and Masks Still a Huge Problem on SEPTA

"It certainly is a concern," says SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch.

septa passengers not wearing masks or practicing social distancing in philadelphia during the coronavirus crisis

Unmasked passengers cram onto SEPTA’s Route 15 bus on Tuesday, May 12th amid the Philadelphia coronavirus crisis. (Photo by Sandy Smith)

A roundup of Philly coronavirus news.

Social Distancing and Masks Still a Huge Problem on SEPTA During Philly Coronavirus Crisis

The mask message is sinking in more and more in the Philadelphia area. I go to the grocery store, and 99 percent of people are wearing masks. I go for a walk, and most other walkers are wearing masks. Things are a lot more masked than they were two weeks ago, generally speaking. Same for social distancing.

But on SEPTA, the situation can be downright scary, in some cases. On Tuesday, Philly Mag writer Sandy Smith captured the above photo of what was happening on the Route 15 bus.

And this isn’t an isolated incident. A quick trip out to the 69th Street terminal in Upper Darby revealed similar crowds on some of the buses that arrive and depart from there. Plus, I spoke with a couple of frequent SEPTA bus riders who say that there have consistently been problems with riders not wearing masks and failing to observe social distancing guidelines. And they say that the issue has become worse over the last couple of weeks, as people begin to leave the house more and ride SEPTA.

“It certainly is a concern,” says SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch. “Our bus operators are doing their best to enforce the 20-rider limit per bus. But we know there are times when that is not possible. One of the goals of the resumption of regular schedules next week is to reduce crowding and promote social distancing. With the resumption of normal schedules, front-door boarding and fare payment returns, and we believe that will help both with efforts to enforce the ride limits and promote social distancing, while also discouraging non-essential travel. Seats will also be marked in buses to help illustrate the distance customers should keep between one another.”

As for masks, you may remember that SEPTA originally told all riders that they had to wear masks, i.e. a requirement. But then after a video showed police dragging an unmasked man off of a SEPTA bus, SEPTA backed off of that stance, moving from “require” to “urge.”

“We are also continuing to urge all riders to wear a facial covering,” Busch says. “We specifically use the term ‘facial covering’ to try to highlight that it can be any type of cloth that covers the mouth and nose. Most customers likely have an old shirt or other material at home that they can fashion into a facial covering. We know finding and purchasing masks is challenging right now, so we are trying to point out the many options customers have available to them.”

It’s “Highly Unlikely” That There Will Be Live Fireworks on the 4th of July in Philly

On Tuesday, the city announced that the Welcome America 2020 4th of July festivities will be virtual. Details were slim, other than that there would be a concert of some kind.

Later in the day, I spoke with Welcome America CEO Michael DelBene, who was able to provide some additional information.

DelBene told me that he’s planning for a live concert that would take place not on the Art Museum steps but inside some non-public place in Philadelphia. And that concert will be shown on television and online.

There will also be prerecorded entertainment, which, DelBene pointed out, opens up the pool of talent.

In our completely hypothetical Philly Mag fantasy world, you could, perhaps, talk Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Travis Scott into participating in Philly’s 4th of July programming, because they could record one song or some type of cameo two weeks (or whatever) in advance. They don’t have to show up on the Art Museum steps. They could do it from their private islands or Learjets.

But the prospect of live fireworks of any kind sounds a bit less exciting. After all, what happens when you have a big fireworks display? People gather in large groups to watch them — even if watching them on TV or a computer is an option. You want to be as close as possible. It’s just the nature of fireworks.

DelBene says that there hasn’t been a final decision yet on fireworks for Philly’s 4th of July. But he conceded that there might not be live fireworks at all in Philadelphia.

A city source who is involved in planning the logistics of the 4th of July each year in Philadelphia told me that live fireworks are “highly unlikely.”

“Social Distance Ambassadors” Coming to a Boardwalk Near You

Speaking of officials trying to cope with large crowds this summer, I enjoyed this Inquirer story by reporter Amy Rosenberg:

There have always been Jersey Shore beach tag checkers, and police officers walking boardwalks and patrolling beaches in ATV’s.

But during this still-uncertain coronavirus spring and summer, Cape May County is adding a new minder: the Social Distance Ambassador.

According to Rosenberg’s report, the ambassadors actually start their ambassadorships this Friday, when it is supposed to be mostly sunny and in the 70s in Cape May. The ambassadors are all volunteers. They will hand out literature that reminds beachgoers of social distancing rules although, as Rosenberg points out, it is not “clear how they would be doing that from six feet away.”