PHILADELPHIA - Philadelphia health officials say the city is starting to see a drop in the number of new COVID-19 cases identified, but say the new numbers don't mean the danger has passed.
Last week, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole stated that the city may be starting to see a peak in the wave brought on by the omicron variant.
Since then, Bettigole says the number of new cases has dropped. However, the city is still seeing nearly 2,000 new cases per day.
"Three weeks ago that number would have been the worst we've seen in the entire pandemic," Bettigole said Wednesday. "It's only because things are slightly better this week than last week that we are hopeful."
Despite the hope brought on by last week's numbers, Bettigole says the drop in new cases does not mean that the omicron wave is over.
In the past two weeks, officials say 25,179 Philadelphians have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
As of Tuesday, the city is seeing an average of 1,979 new cases per day – compared to more than 3,500 cases per day last week.
- Free government COVID test kits now available: Everything you need to know
- 400 million free N95 masks to be made available starting next week, White House says
- Vaccination cards required to dine in restaurants or attend sporting events in Philadelphia
The percentage of tests coming back positive is down to 21%, but the city believes they are still missing a significant number of positive cases in the community.
Bettigole says most of the people in the hospital with COVID-19 are still not fully vaccinated.
She encouraged anyone who has not gotten any rounds of the vaccination to get them as soon as possible, and that anyone eligible for second doses or booster doses get those as well.
The city also announced on Wednesday that schools can switch to five days of quarantine for students – instead of 10 – if the schools meet certain requirements. Those requirements include ventilation and contact tracing.
Health officials also recommended a separate area for students and staff who were recently infected to eat without masks for up to 10 days.
Going forward, the city says staffing shortages, and not COVID-19 case numbers, will be used to determine if schools should stay open.
The teacher's union called the changes troubling, saying they could leave students and staff vulnerable.
Bettigole says the latest guidance is based on what they are able to do with the resources they have.
"The return after five days is unduly risky for many schools. Unfortunately Philadelphia Schools suffer from an unfair and unjust state funding formula that means that many of the layers of mitigation recommended by the CDC cannot be attained at all schools," Bettigole says.
Bettigole also reminded residents that they could order free test kids from the U.S. Government.
Americans can request free COVID-19 test kits -- four per address -- at COVIDTESTS.GOV. The first shipments are set to go out by the end of January.
The Biden administration will begin making 400 million N95 masks available for free to Americans starting next week, now that federal officials are emphasizing their better protection against the omicron variant of COVID-19 over cloth face coverings.
The White House announced Wednesday that the masks will come from the government's Strategic National Stockpile, which has more than 750 million of the highly protective masks on hand. The masks will be available for pickup at pharmacies and community health centers across the country. They will begin shipping this week for distribution starting late next week, the White House said.