City of Philadelphia to reinstate indoor mask mandate

With new coronavirus cases low but rising sharply in recent days, the city of Philadelphia announced Monday that it would reinstate an indoor mask mandate just over a month after lifting it, becoming the first major city American to do so.

“This is our chance to get ahead of the pandemic,” Cheryl Bettigole, the city’s health commissioner, said at a news conference. She acknowledged that the average number of new daily cases, currently at 142, is still a far cry from what it was at the start of the year, when the Omicron variant pushed the seven-day average to nearly 4,000.

But she said if the city doesn’t require masks now, “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 to many of our residents. Over the past week, the city has reported that the number of residents who have died from Covid-19 has exceeded 5,000.

The mandate will come into effect next week. A spokesperson for the city’s health department said it would end when the number of cases and rates drop below a certain threshold.

The decision comes as cases surge across the country, fueled by the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant, known as BA.2. While the national increase so far has been relatively small — about 3% over the past two weeks — case growth in northeastern cities like New York and Washington, DC, has been significantly stronger. Some northeast colleges, including Columbia, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins, have reinstated indoor mask mandates in recent days.

Speaking at a virtual press conference on Monday afternoon, Mayor Eric Adams of New York said he would follow the advice of his health team in making any decisions on reinstating mask mandates despite his outcome. positive test on Sunday, the rise in virus cases in the city and Philadelphia’s decision.

“I am not special as mayor. What happens to me personally shouldn’t determine how I make policy,” Adams said. “That should be what happens to New York City.”

“I feel fine, no fever, no runny nose, no body aches,” the mayor said, adding that with his history of diabetes, “I probably would have had different results if I hadn’t been vaccinated and boosted”.

Under Philadelphia’s Covid Response Plan, mitigations are triggered when case counts or case trajectories exceed certain thresholds. Since early March, when Omicron was rapidly backing down, the city had been at Level 1, or “everything clear”, meaning most mandatory measures – including indoor mask mandates as well as vaccine proof requirements in restaurants – had been lifted. Masks are no longer required in schools across the city, although people visiting hospitals or taking public transport must still wear them.

The indoor mask mandate is automatically reinstated when the city reaches Tier 2, in which the average number of new daily cases and hospitalizations are still low but “cases have increased by more than 50% in the previous 10 days. “. The health departments spokesperson said that over the past 10 days the average number of new cases has increased by almost 70%.

Philadelphia’s system “allows us to be clear, transparent and predictable in our response to local Covid-19 conditions,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement after the announcement. “I am optimistic that this step will help us control the rate of cases,” he added.

The city’s decision contradicts the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basing its designation on hospital admissions among other benchmarks, the CDC considers Philadelphia to have a “low” community level and therefore does not advise required masking.

Asked about the difference, Dr Bettigole stressed that “local conditions matter” in making these decisions, and referred to inequalities in the impact of the virus. “We’ve all seen here in Philadelphia, how our history of redlining, the history of disparities has impacted, especially on our black and brown communities in the city,” she said. “And so it makes sense to be more cautious in Philadelphia than, you know, maybe in an affluent suburb.”

Jeffery C.Mays contributed report.

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