mask mandates

Masking Rules in Philadelphia to Remain Despite CDC Loosening Policy

City and school officials said Friday that masking requirements for indoor public gatherings will remain in effect. They did not give an end date. Federal health officials are easing recommendations for masking inside.

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Wearing a mask while inside public spaces in Philadelphia will required for the foreseeable future, officials said, despite an easing of federal masking recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control on Friday.

Both the city and the city school district will continue to enforce indoor masking requirements, spokespeople for both City Hall and the school district said.

"Though we are encouraged by current COVID-19 trends, the Health Department has developed its Response Levels based on local conditions and months of data specific to Philadelphia," a spokesman for the city Department of Public Health said. "At this time we plan to continue the implementation of these current Response Levels as the pandemic unfolds. We are not making any changes to mask guidance at this time."

The school district spokeswoman said the district would follow the city's lead on lifting the indoor mask mandate.

The CDC on Friday announced a change to the metrics it uses to determine whether to recommend face coverings, shifting from looking at COVID-19 case counts to a more holistic view of risk from the coronavirus to a community. Under the old guidelines, masks were recommended for people residing in communities of substantial or high transmission — roughly 95% of U.S. counties, according to the latest data.

The new metrics still consider caseloads, but also take into account hospitalizations and local hospital capacity, which have been markedly improved during the emergence of the Omicron variant. That strain is highly transmissible, but indications are that it is less severe than earlier strains, particularly for people who are fully vaccinated and boosted.

Under the new guidelines, the vast majority of Americans no longer live in areas where indoor masking in public is recommended, based on current data.

The new policy comes as the Biden administration moves to shift its focus to preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19, rather than all instances of infection, as part of a strategy adjustment for a new “phase" in the response as the virus becomes endemic.

Last week, Mayor Jim Kenney announced that the city would lift proof of vaccination to eat or drink indoors. But he was rigid in his opposition to lifting the mask mandate.

"I'll tell you the truth, this is not that big of an imposition," Kenney said, pointing to his mask as he spoke to reporters. "To be honest with you, it's kept people safe. ...And it only happened because of this discipline. I just don't understand why this is such an imposition, to wear a mask and to take precaution and to get vaccinated."

Two weeks ago, New Jersey and Delaware governors announced an end of masking requirements in schools and indoor public spaces. Pennsylvania previously dropped a statewide mask mandate, but allowed local jurisdictions like Philadelphia to make their own rules.

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