Philadelphia Becomes First U.S. City to Bring Back Indoor Mask Mandate

Mature man wearing disposable medical face mask in car of the subway during coronavirus outbreak.
Mature man wearing disposable medical face mask in car of the subway during coronavirus outbreak.

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TUESDAY, April 12, 2022 (HealthDay News) -- Faced with rising COVID-19 case counts, Philadelphia has announced that it will reinstate an indoor mask mandate next week.

City officials announced the change on Monday, as COVID-19 cases have climbed across the country due to the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant known as BA.2.

Philadelphia has an automatic indoor mask mandate that kicks in whenever cases in the city rise to a "Level 2." That happens when daily case counts and hospitalizations are still low, but "cases have increased by more than 50% in the previous 10 days."

That's what happened in the past week and a half, when the average number of cases rose 70%.

"This is our chance to get ahead of the pandemic," City Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said during a media briefing, the Times reported.

Bettigole acknowledged that the average number of daily cases, now 142, is much lower than when the original Omicron variant drove it to a seven-day average of nearly 4,000 earlier this year.

The city had been at a "Level 1," also known as "all clear" since early March. That meant indoor mask mandates and proof-of-vaccination requirements at restaurants were mostly gone.

"Knowing that every previous wave of infections has been followed by a wave of hospitalizations, and then a wave of deaths, then it will be too late for many of our residents," if the city doesn't require masks now, Bettigole said.

More than 5,000 Philadelphia residents have died during the pandemic from the coronavirus.

"Philadelphia's COVID-19 response levels allow us to be clear, transparent and predictable in our response to local COVID-19 conditions," Mayor Jim Kenney said in a news release. "Given the recent rise in cases, we are moving to Level 2 in hopes of preventing higher case rates and stricter measures. Our city remains open; we can still go about our daily lives and visit the people and places we love while masking in indoor public spaces. I'm optimistic that this step will help us control the case rate."

Cases nationwide have increased about 3% over the past two weeks, but the growth has been much sharper in Northeastern cities, including New York and Washington, D.C., the Times reported. Some Northeastern colleges in those areas have also reinstated their mask mandates, including Columbia, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins.

While Philadelphia's guidelines require reinstating the mandate, those from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not. The CDC standards, which also weigh hospitalizations, consider Philadelphia to have a "low" community level of cases that do not require masking.

Bettigole said "local conditions do matter" when making these decisions.

"We've all seen here in Philadelphia, how much our history of redlining, history of disparities has impacted, particularly our Black and brown communities in the city," Bettigole said. "And so it does make sense to be more careful in Philadelphia than, you know, perhaps in an affluent suburb."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.

SOURCE: The New York Times

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