PHILADELPHIA - Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health announced the reinstatement of the city’s mask mandate for indoor public spaces on Monday after a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Last week, the Philadelphia Department of Health said coronavirus cases increased by more than 50% in a ten-day span in the city where there's now an average of 142 new cases per day, according to Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole.
"This looks like we may be at the start of a new COVID wave like Europe just saw," she said.
While hospitalizations remain low, Bettigole says Philadelphia no longer meets the threshold for the All Clear tier.
Health officials use four key metrics, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, test positivity rates and the rate of increase in cases, to determine the move from one response tier to the next.
The tiers are listed as:
- Extreme Caution: Proof of vaccination required for places that serve food or drink; masks required in indoor public places
- Caution: Proof of vaccination or negative test within 24 hours for places that serve food or drink; masks required in indoor public places
- Mask Precautions: No vaccine requirement for places that serve food or drink; masks required in indoor public places
- All Clear: No vaccine requirement for places that serve food or drink; No mask requirement (except in schools, healthcare institutions, congregate settings, and on public transportation)
The increase in cases moves Philadelphia from the All Clear tier to the Mask Precautions level, requiring masks to be worn indoors, including in schools and day cares.
Bettigole says a one-week education period will be given to get the word out about the mandate before enforcement begins on April 18.
"Our city remains open. By wearing masks consistently we can continue to go about our daily lives and continue to take part in the life of our city without contributing to increasing transmission of COVID-19," Bettigole said.
The guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has helped city officials with setting the timing for mandates, but the agency changed course in recent months, saying most Americans can safely take a break from wearing masks.
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The city's vaccine mandate for indoor dining was dropped in February and the indoor mask mandate was initially dropped on March 2.
In schools, the mask mandate was also dropped in March with a one-week mask mandate set for after spring break.
"Starting today, I'm asking all businesses and institutions in Philadelphia to dig up those old mask required signs and start hanging them up in your windows," Bettigole said.
She also said the health department will reach out to Philadelphia businesses to inform them of the reinstatement of the mandate.
According to Bettigole, health experts will monitor metrics to see if there are opportunities to be less restrictive.
"I sincerely wish we didn't have to do this again," Bettigole said. "I wish this pandemic was over just as much as any of you, but I am very worried about our vulnerable neighbors and loved ones. It is my hope that our actions today will slow the spread of COVID and help us avoid seeing our ERs once again get so crowded that people can't get timely care when they need it."
The Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association (PRLA) expressed their disappointment in the renewed mask requirements shortly after the city announced the change, noting that restaurant workers have faced ‘severe backlash’ when enforcing mask rules in the past.
"Philadelphia restaurants have done all they can to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19—from hosting vaccine clinics to sponsoring coronavirus test giveaways—while working to keep business in the city. It's deflating to hear that the city plans to bring back the mask mandate, especially without having conversations with anyone from the industry about timing and approach," a statement from Be Fileccia, PRLA's Senior Director of Operations, read in part.
Fileccia went on to call the decision a ‘major blow’ to thousands of small businesses who had hoped spring would be the start of a recovery phase.
The Wells Fargo Center published a message to fans on its website saying, "Effective Monday, April 18, fans attending Wells Fargo Center events are required to wear a mask in the arena. Fans are no longer required to show proof of vaccination or proof of a negative test to enter the arena."
The health department is continuing to encourage people to get vaccinated, and stay home & get tested when they feel sick.