2020 is finally behind us but the toll it took in Philadelphia will be something we carry with us for a long time. The City of Brotherly Love had good reason to live up to that name over the past 12 months as care for your neighbor became a requirement for everyone’s health and survival. It’s been an incredible challenge for residents in every section of Philly and we can only hope that we are on a slow, but steady climb back to our normal lives.
One of the true tragedies of 2020 was that the pandemic wasn’t the only danger for Philadelphia residents. Tragedies resulting from traffic accidents and criminal acts were still major threats to everyone in the city. In some cases, the damage the frequency of these dangers proved exponentially higher than in years past. This was during a period when for long stretches we were supposed to be quarantined in our homes so the increased risk from many hazards that can plague Philadelphia can come as a shock.
The true costs of COVID-19 may not be fully calculated yet, but looking back over 2020 can hopefully give us some perspective on the coming year. A look back can also make it less likely that we repeat the same mistakes.
There wasn’t a corner of Philadelphia untouched by the worldwide pandemic in 2020 and the news of new case counts and victims lost to the virus provided sad milestones each day.
The City of Philadelphia announced the first confirmed local case of the COVID-19 on March 10. The first report of a claimed life followed shortly after and was reported by the city on March 25. By the last day of March, there were 12 more heartbreaking deaths to report.
The Governor responded by first issuing a mass gathering ban for the city. Then took tougher measures and issued a stay-at-home order for the entire city. It began Monday morning on March 23, 2020. It prohibited, with certain exceptions, public and private gatherings outside a single household.
From there COVID-19’s reach only grew. It may be helpful to see where the levels of COVID-19 cases started and where they ended up for the terrible year that was 2020. Here’s a breakdown of the number of cases documented in April for Philadelphia. The figures are provided by the City Of Philadelphia’s web page.
By the end of April cases in Philadelphia started to fall and steadily tailed off over the summer with case numbers ranging from 600-1,100 a week from June to October. In November, cases roared back with a vengeance reaching 7,000 and 6,000 positive tests a week through the middle of the month.
It’s discouraging to see that December looks a bit like where we started back in April, with even more daily cases to report as the year drew to a close.
Numbers from the early part of December included the surge of incidents predicted and seen after the Thanksgiving Holiday. People traveling across state lines and attending large family gatherings fueled a sudden uptick. Some of the heavy case numbers reported in the first week of December were partially a holdover from November when testing and tracking were slowed over the holiday weekend.
It should be noted that statistics reported in December count both confirmed positive tests and suspected positive tests in Philadelphia.
The specter of the pandemic’s tragic reach was never clearer than in the monthly fatalities reported in Philadelphia. Families and communities were devastated by the news of loved ones lost each week. The sad fates of so many people were all the more heartbreaking when family members weren’t allowed to visit hospitals to see patients in dire conditions.
Again, it should be pointed out that December’s jump in tragic outcomes can be partially attributed to cases contracted over the Thanksgiving Holiday. Each month contributed to the tragic total of around 2,450 deaths by New Year’s Day according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. As of the middle of January, 2021 city officials were already reporting that the number had risen to 2,693 precious lives lost.
It was clear early on that stay-at-home orders and fewer motorists on the road would, sadly, not mean that traffic fatalities would drop. Law enforcement in every state and in Philadelphia saw fewer cars on the streets but found that the drivers that were out and about were speeding more and making other reckless decisions when finding themselves on fairly empty roads.
With people stuck in their neighborhoods, the levels of cyclists and walkers using sidewalks and crosswalks also increased. This led to more confrontations between those using foot and pedal power and motorists in their big, fast vehicles.
According to local authorities, the alarming levels of traffic accidents were apparent early on. End of year numbers for 2020 weren’t needed to see the alarming trends.
The Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia posts traffic accident data all year long by tracking news reports and by breaking down bi-monthly crash data from the Philadelphia Police Department. Their unofficial numbers for the year show the sad course of 2020.
KYW News Radio talked to Philadelphia Police Accident Investigation Officers in September to learn that by August they’d investigated 25% more fatal crashes than over the same January to August span in 2019. By the end of October, police had confirmed 119 lives lost in traffic accidents. It was the worst period for the city since 1997.
Luckily, even in a year of work from home mandates, even for city employees, local leaders still managed to push forward with a bold plan to offer some breathing room on city streets. In November, CBS3-TV reported on Philadelphia’s new proposal to reduce traffic accidents across the board.
The hope behind “Vision Zero” is to end traffic deaths in Philadelphia by 2030. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney laid out the elements of the initiative:
These three elements of the plan are scheduled to be done by 2025. It’s one more thing that shows promise of making Philadelphia a safer place in 2021 and beyond.
Sadly, in a year of so many tragedies, the people of Philadelphia also had to confront a frightening jump in gun violence. Pregnant mothers, children, and innocent bystanders were all victims as the city erupted in senseless violence in the months during the pandemic.
By the last few days of the year, the number of homicide victims was at a devastating level not seen in 30 years in Philadelphia. 1990 was a tragic year when cases hit the 500 mark and this year, 2020 fell just one shy of that number.
The clusters of deadly incidents could be tracked in fairly predictable weekly spikes every month from the beginning of June all the way through November. WPVI-TV reported on the shocking preliminary numbers for 2020 when compared to past years.
The largest part of these homicides involved the use of a gun. The Philadelphia Inquirer looked at figures just after the calendar flipped to 2021 and reported that 2,240 people were shot over the year. That’s 40% more than Philadelphia Police have ever responded to over a single year.
The rise in violence and murder in Philadelphia had gained the attention of the entire nation by the halfway point of 2020. In August, CNN ran a story sadly proclaiming Philadelphia as having the second-highest homicide numbers in the country by the end of July. Philadelphia was only behind Chicago in regards to homicide cases from January through July. To that point, Philadelphia numbers were already 32% higher than over the same period the year before.
In the Philadelphia City Council meeting CNN used as the basis for their article, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw listed a few reasons for the incredible increase in gun violence:
The Philadelphia Inquirer also cited a police statement that confirmed Philadelphia Officers had logged more than 2,300 arrests for illegal firearm possession in 2020, double the total from 2015.
After such a disastrous year across the globe, Philadelphia residents must hold out hope for a better 2021. Some careless drivers and opportunistic criminals took advantage of the chaos that 2020 carried with it, but overall local families banded together (while remaining a safe distance apart) to teach our children, treat our sick, and provide aid to those who might not survive a brush with a dangerous virus.
We can hope that a new vaccine can do its job and continue to limit COVID-19 transmissions. As businesses, schools, services, and travel open back up let’s not forget the kindness that 2020 brought out in so many people. Not all of those selfless acts made headlines, but each good deed made it possible for Philadelphia to survive perhaps the greatest challenge of our lifetimes.