With COVID-19 Cases Spiking, Philly Needs to Shut Down Completely

It's time to get serious about beating this pandemic. The city's new restrictions don't go nearly far enough.

No more of this, Philadelphia. We need more stringent COVID restrictions. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

The best way to describe Philly’s current approach to the pandemic is this: It’s a walking contradiction.

Last week, I made the unusual-for-me decision to watch local news (I was supporting a friend who was featured on a live segment) and couldn’t help but yell at the screen. At the top of the hour, newscasters were talking about the growing spikes of COVID-19 cases across Philly. As I watched a montage of close-up shots of coronavirus strains, B-roll footage of doctors in clinics, and experts making recommendations about mask-wearing, I began to reconsider my plans to go out for the week. As I lost all hope for my social life, the anchor previewed the program’s next segment: a sneak peek at Christmas Village and other holiday attractions to check out.

Excuse me? How do you scare people to death and in the next breath encourage them to put themselves at risk? How does this make any sense?

This is why I can’t watch local news.

But it’s not the media’s fault. I blame the city. For several months, we’ve been playing games with this deadly virus. In May, Mayor Jim Kenney urged us to “just put on a damn mask.” Then we opened up, bit by bit, and case numbers stayed low but consistent. By fall, we’d let restaurants reopen, and in November, we were hyping up the large crowds in Center City celebrating the end of the Trump regime without social distancing. And yes, even some of your favorite City Council officials came to the packed parties without backing up six feet. Now? We’re looking at a full-on resurgence.

Monday’s new COVID-19 restrictions, which have the city banning indoor dining again and re-closing theaters, gyms and indoor exercise classes from November 20th till the end of the year, were a long time coming. As cases rise exponentially, it makes sense that places where large numbers of people gather are facing new restrictions. But this isn’t enough. These restrictions, while tougher than recent ones, aren’t nearly as aggressive as those in the spring. Why are non-essential businesses still being allowed to operate if numbers are spiking? Does anyone think we’re really capable of practicing social distancing while holiday shopping in the middle of a pandemic? And I don’t trust for a second that the new guidelines for outdoor gatherings will be heeded.

Which is why I don’t believe this half-assed approach will resolve anything. If we’re serious about reducing these scary numbers, why not just go all-in? How about after Thanksgiving, the city enforces a citywide shutdown until New Year’s Day? It’s time to play hardball if we’re talking about saving lives. I would rather have thousands of angry, whiny Philadelphians alive than hundreds more dead because we were too impatient to wait this pandemic out.

When you tell people to stop eating indoors but fail to scold them for partying in large crowds outdoors, the hypocrisy is real. While studies showed that street protests over the summer did not spread COVID, partying in the street over the results of a presidential election that were in many ways a referendum on the current administration’s pandemic response wasn’t the best look. And how seriously are we supposed to take the government’s guidance on social distancing when there is literally an entire Christmas Village outside of City Hall? These contradictions aren’t helping anyone.

The only way to instill a sense of immediacy is to shut everything down for the rest of the year. Sure, people will be mad. (They already are.) But putting lives above capitalism during this pandemic is long overdue. Forget the temporary angst; a short period of intense economic pain will be more effective than the long, drawn-out limbo we’ve experienced. This can only happen if the city stops playing games. It’s time to shut everything non-essential down, get this pandemic under control, and give ourselves a better chance of being able to fully reopen on the other end. We’re officially at the point of no return in COVID-19 cases — either we go hard, or we go to the grave.

Priorities, Philly. Priorities.