With COVID-19 cases slowly rising, Philadelphia is bringing back its indoor mask mandate for public places, schools and day cares.
Philadelphia announced Monday that, on April 18, masks must be worn again indoors.
Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said businesses can choose to be mask-free if they require all employees and visitors to prove they have been vaccinated.
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“As before, if an establishment, any type of establishment, chooses to be vaccine only, they can be exempt from the mask requirement," Bettigole said at a Monday afternoon news conference.
Philadelphia made the mask mandate move with daily case counts and hospitalizations ticking above its own self-imposed benchmarks in recent days.
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Confirmed COVID-19 cases have risen more than 50% in 10 days, the threshold at which the city’s guidelines call for people to wear masks indoors, Bettigole said. Health officials believe the recent spike is being driven by the highly transmissible BA.2 subvariant of omicron, which has spread rapidly throughout Europe and Asia, and has become dominant in the U.S. in recent weeks.
Philadelphia is currently averaging 142 new cases per day and 46 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.
“I sincerely wish we didn’t have to do this again," Bettigole said. “But I am very worried about our vulnerable neighbors and loved ones."
The School District of Philadelphia had already planned on requiring masks as students return from spring break on April 18. This new mandate means all schools and day cares in the city must also follow suit.
The move means the city didn't even have two months without indoor masking requirements. The city had given the "all clear" and dropped its previous mask mandate on March 2.
Most states and cities dropped their masking requirements in February and early March following new guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that put less focus on case counts and more on hospital capacity. The CDC said at that time that with the virus in retreat, most Americans could safely take off their masks.
The restaurant industry pushed back against reimposed masking, saying workers will bear the brunt of customer anger over the new rules.
“This announcement is a major blow to thousands of small businesses and other operators in the city who were hoping this spring would be the start of recovery,” said Ben Fileccia, senior director of operations at the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association.
PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia said Friday that while it expects some increased transmission in the northern U.S. over the next several weeks, hospital admissions have remained low and “our team advises against required masking given that hospital capacity is good.”
Bettigole said masking will help restaurants and other businesses stay open, while a huge new wave of COVID-19 would keep customers at home. She said hospital capacity was just one factor that went into her decision to reinstate the mandate.