What to Know
- Philadelphia businesses will now have the option of either verifying that employees and customers are vaccinated or requiring masks in their establishments.
- Restaurants and bars that do not require proof of vaccination will need to ensure everyone wears mask when not seated while actively
eating or drinking.
- Masks will also be required at large outdoor events that do not provide attendees with seating.
Philadelphia businesses must now require masks or proof of vaccination from employees and customers, while large outdoor events with no seating will also need to implement masks as the city updates its coronavirus guidance.
Businesses that require all staff and customers be fully vaccinated will not be subject to the masking rule, Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole announced Wednesday. The new guidelines, which took effect at midnight Thursday, come as COVID-19 infections rise again across the country, driven largely by the more transmissible delta variant and a struggle to get people vaccinated.
“The science is clear: these measures will protect Philadelphians and save lives,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. He and Bettigole urged residents to get vaccinated – which is widely available and provided free of charge – as public health officials say it is the most effective way to prevent people from developing severe illness.
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Businesses that opt for requiring proof of vaccination will need to check vaccine cards – either the paper card issued by vaccine providers or a photo of said card – at the door, Bettigole said. Business owners who choose the proof of vaccine option will be subject to fines if they do not check customers’ status.
The city will put out guidance to show workers how to check someone’s vaccination card, Bettigole said.
Furthermore, she added, children under 12 cannot enter an establishment that requires proof of immunization, since vaccines are not yet authorized for that segment of the population. For families going to a restaurant, that means children cannot go inside but can still dine outside, she said.
People who have lost or damaged their vaccination card can request a new one by calling 215-685-5488 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, Bettigole noted.
Kenney acknowledged, however, that vaccine verification will have its limitations, especially with some people paying for fake cards.
“I can’t stop people from being corrupt. If they want to be corrupt and do that, and if they want to carry a fake ID, probably they’re going to get by us,” he said. “But I really don’t think carrying a card is a big thing to ask.”
Restaurants and bars that do not require proof of vaccination will need to ensure everyone wears masks when not seated while actively eating or drinking.
John Longstreet, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, said in a written statement that his group supports vaccinations, but that Philadelphia’s new rules are onerous for business owners.
“The PRLA supports the goal of a vaccinated and safe work environment for all. However, mitigation efforts should not put business owners and operators in a position to choose between a fully vaccinated staff and customer base, or masks for all,” Longstreet wrote. “This puts an unfair burden of verification on employees with no time to train or implement protocols.”
Meanwhile, the masking requirement for outdoor events will only apply when there are more than 1,000 attendees in a venue with no seating. It will not apply to seated events such as professional sports, Bettigole said.
However, both the Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies announced that they will now require people to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
The Flyers and the 76ers did not immediately announce any new masking requirement. It was also unclear how the guidelines will affect the Union, which plays its home games in neighboring Chester.
For their part, organizers of the Made in America festival announced that people will need to wear face masks and must show either proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test in order to attend.
In addition, by Sept. 1, all new city employees will need to be fully vaccinated, while current employees must either fully vaccinate or wear two face masks. Bettigole said that the double masking rule for city employees means they must wear a disposable paper surgical mask underneath a cloth mask.
Philadelphia is being forced to implement the new rules because of the worsening COVID-19 situation, Bettigole and Kenney said.
The health secretary noted that while Philadelphia is in better shape than many other cities – especially those in the South, where some lawmakers have railed against measures like vaccine and masking mandates – the number of coronavirus infections has nonetheless continued to rise.
The average number of new infections per day has doubled three times in the last month, and the city is now averaging nearly 200 new daily cases, Bettigole said. Additionally, she noted, for the first time since early June, more than 100 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.
Data from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health shows that a little more than 63% of adult residents have been fully vaccinated, with just over 77% having received at least one dose.
Philadelphia, along with the rest of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, though, have all passed a threshold that has long been a signal that COVID is all around: public health officials for both states and the city say positive tests now make up more than 5% of results.
That's a level at which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends citizens should be wearing masks in all indoor public spaces, as well as social distancing to protect against spread.
A visibly frustrated Kenney said that to quell the pandemic, “People just have to grow up and do what they have to do."
“You can see the level of immaturity around the country, even from governors and legislators. This is where we are. Thank God we’re not in World War II because the level of effort and maturity that was shown in World War II is not being shown here, and we’d be speaking German at this point. So, people just have to grow up and do what they’re supposed to do,” Kenney said.
With the new guidance, Philadelphia is joining other states and municipalities across the country that are imposing more restrictions as infections rise due to the delta variant.
In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy last week announced that all students and teachers must wear masks when they return to in-person learning this fall. He doubled down on his decision Monday while talking to reporters.
"We’re not going to not protect our kids, our teachers, our school community," he said. "We’re not going to let COVID shut down our schools, and not willing to surrender our children to this virus."
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf has not issued the same requirement for school districts, instead allowing local leaders to decide for themselves whether masks are mandatory.
Wolf did announce Tuesday, however, that around 25,000 state employees working in Pennsylvania’s state prisons or health care and congregate care facilities will have about a month to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or take weekly tests for the virus.
Despite being fully vaccinated, people can still become infected with the coronavirus, but the disease's effects are severely blunted. Vaccinated individuals who acquire a so-called breakthrough infection are very unlikely to require hospitalization or die, which is why public health officials worldwide stress the importance of vaccination. (If you still need to be vaccinated, here's a tool to find the closest vaccination provider to your home.)
Bettigole, the acting Philadelphia health secretary, warned that the city could take more drastic measures if the situation does not improve and there continue to be more infections.
“We will be watching the numbers closely; we may need to adjust safety measures if they continue to rise,” she said.