This weekend, Pope Francis’s historic trip to Philadelphia is expected to draw 1.5 million visitors into the city — literally doubling our population overnight. While most Philadelphians (myself included) are excited to be part of the hullabaloo, one can’t help but notice how His Holiness’s imminent arrival is turning Philly into a deleted flashback scene from 28 Days Later.
You know, that scene where city officials scramble to quarantine the populace and quell the spread of zombie contagion before it’s too late. Here are a just few ways Pope Francis’s visit to Philly looks like practice for the real Pandemic.
On Thursday night at 10pm, a “secure vehicle perimeter” went into effect, blocking off all roads within the “Pope Zone.” On Friday at 6pm, a larger “Traffic Box” will materialize across Center City. At 10pm, the Box hops the river into West Philly, and the secure vehicle perimeter expands east to Independence Hall. For those not familiar with the city, this boils down to a 4.6 mile square chunk of metropolis — including some of the city’s most densely trafficked streets — transforming into a no car zone overnight.
Map of Philadelphia showing highway closures (thick red lines), no car zones (thin green lines) and secure vehicle perimeters (shaded red regions). Check out the full interactive map here.
Even the clever preppers who leave their cars parked in the woods on the outskirts of town for exactly this sort of situation are in trouble. Beginning Friday night, nearly all major highways and bridges leading out of the Philadelphia will shut down. Interstate 95, which connects Philly with New York, Baltimore and DC, will remain open — for the select few who can get their vehicles across town to the highway. So unless you want to buy an expensive train ticket — and they’re selling out fast, I checked — or a flight, you’re pretty much stuck. (Exactly as you should be if you’re carrying a highly infectious zombie virus, you nitwit!)
Here’s the most blessed part of the papal visit: Most of the city will remain open to bikers and walkers all weekend. Hordes be damned, I plan to enjoy myself a long walk across town down the automobile-free streets. That is a holy miracle.
Nearly all non-essential city workers have been granted the next two days off. Philadelphia public schools, courts and City Hall are closed until the pope’s visit concludes. Many bus, trolley, and city rail lines are closing down or operating at limited stops for the weekend. Trash will not be collected on Friday or Monday. Mail delivery and collection has been restricted.
Philadelphia’s City Hall is a ghost town on Friday, September 25th before the pope’s visit. Image Credit: Alex Brandon / AP
There’s one municipal service, however, that’s kicking into high gear this weekend: Sanitation. According to NJ.com, Royal Flush Inc. has placed roughly 3,000 port-a-potties and 350 urinal stalls downtown. If we end up with 1.5 million visitors in town as city officials are predicting, then we’ve got one toilet for every 448 city visitors (1.5 million / 3,350). Whether or not that’ll be enough to accommodate the extra excrement depends on how many people actually show up and how many of those free water bottles they’re pounding. Suffice to say, it could be a shit show.
Interestingly, these are exactly the same sort of measures we might expect a city to take in the event of a mass contagion. Encourage people to stay home and avoid contact with one another. Make sure sanitation systems are a-go to limit the spread of disease.
Except, you know, for the part where millions of germ-ridden humans are going to be jam-packed into the city’s downtown this weekend. That’s kinda going to work against us.
Sparing no measures to ensure the pope’s safety, Homeland Security has installed dozens of air sampling devices on the streets and around the periphery of the pope zone, according to ABC News. They’ll be sniffing for chemicals and radiation as the crowds stream in. In other words, they are searching for bioterrorism weapons. (If only our leaders had this amount of foresight in Twelve Monkeys.)
Image: One of the dozens of air sampling devices that’s been covertly deployed around the city, via ABC
Anthrax and nuclear weapons are just the half of it. With the city accommodating 1.5 million visitors from over 100 countries this weekend, doctors are on high alert — and not for your run-of-the-mill cuts and sprains. As the Associated Press reported Wednesday, medical practitioners throughout the city are preparing to treat rare and unusual illnesses, including typhoid, yellow fever, malaria, polio, and tuberculosis. The Philadelphia Department of Health has posed lists of potential disease symptoms, diagnostics, treatments, and instructions on patient isolation and protective care on its website. The city is also instructing health care providers to collect detailed patient travel histories and report any unusual illnesses on a special hotline.
To aid doctors in dealing with medical emergencies, restricted roads will remain open to ambulances, and hospitals close to the pope zone are being outfitted with additional supplies. According to the Baltimore Sun, Maryland plans on sending two ambulance “strike teams” to Philly to help meet emergency needs. If the Outbreak is nigh, nobody can say we didn’t prepare.
Philly is lucky to have Pope Francis paying a visit. But any event that causes a city’s population to balloon overnight is going to lead to infrastructure closures, additional security measures, and an interruption to the normal humdrum routine — in much the same way that a rabid, apocalyptic virus would.
If this is our dry run for the End Times, so be it. From what I’ve witnessed these past few days, Philly can get ready for anything. Now go do your part and stay the hell away.
Follow the author @themadstone
Top image: Alex Brandon / AP