Philadelphia is “probably several months away” from dropping its mask mandate as coronavirus continues to circulate, the city’s health commissioner said Wednesday.
While the number of infections continues to drop in recent weeks, case counts, driven by the more transmissible omicron variant, remain too high to get rid of current restrictions, Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said during the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s weekly COVID-19 briefing.
As of Tuesday, the city was averaging 554 new cases of COVID-19 per day, Bettigole noted. That represents about a 50% drop since last week and a nearly 85% drop since the peak of the latest wave. In addition, 686 people who tested positive for the virus were hospitalized as of Tuesday, less than half of what the number of COIVD-19 hospitalizations was two weeks ago, she added.
“We are not at a point where we would drop the mask mandate. Eventually, absolutely. But not at this time,” Bettigole said.
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Under current rules, Philadelphia businesses that don’t require vaccinations for all employees and patrons must mandate mask use indoors. People are exempt from the mask requirement if they’re actively eating or drinking at a table of no more than four people.
The mask mandate also extends to non-seated outdoor gatherings of more than 1,000 people.
On Tuesday, San Francisco announced it would allow vaccinated individuals to forego masks in some indoor settings. However, Philadelphia is not yet in a position to follow suit, Bettigole said, citing the effectiveness of masks in slowing the spread of the virus.
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She added that the city continues to explore what an “offramp” would look like in terms of rolling back restrictions, but said it has not yet determined which metrics it would use to do so. The metrics will probably include a combination of case counts, hospitalizations and deaths, Bettigole said.
“If you think about where we are with this particular wave and case rates right now, we’re probably several months away from a place where we’ll have the kind of safety to drop all the current restrictions,” she said.