Philadelphia to end mask mandate, days after reinstatement

Philadelphia is ending its indoor mask mandate, city health officials said late Thursday, abruptly reversing course just days after city residents had to resume wearing masks amid a sharp increase in infections.

The Board of Health voted on Thursday to rescind the mandate, according to the Philadelphia Department of Health, which released a statement citing “a decrease in hospitalizations and a leveling off in the number of cases.”

The mandate went into effect on Monday. Philadelphia had ended its previous indoor mask tenure on March 2.

The health department did not release data to support its reversal of masking, saying more information would be provided on Friday. But the acting health commissioner, Dr Cheryl Bettigole, told the Board of Health at a public meeting on Thursday evening that hospitalizations had unexpectedly fallen by 25% in a matter of days.

“We’re in a situation that we really didn’t anticipate so soon, but that’s good news,” she said, according to a transcript of the meeting. “So I’m really, really happy … to say that it looks like we no longer need to mandate masks in Philadelphia and we can actually move to just a strong recommendation.”

Philadelphia had become the first major US city to reinstate its indoor mask mandate, but faced a backlash as well as a legal effort to have the mandate overturned. Few masks were worn in the Philadelphia 76ers’ home playoff game on Monday, even though they were required by city rules.

City officials said the warrant would be lifted Friday morning.

When the city announced on April 11 that mandatory masking was returning, Bettigole said it was necessary to prevent a potential new wave driven by an omicron subvariant. She said Philadelphia has passed the spike in cases at which city guidelines call for people to wear masks indoors.

“If we don’t act now, knowing that each previous wave of infections has been followed by a wave of hospitalizations and then a wave of deaths, it will be too late for many of our residents,” Bettigole said. at the time.

Cases and hospitalizations continued to rise at least until Monday, when the health department reported 82 patients in hospital with COVID-19 — up nearly 80% from the previous week — with confirmed cases up 58% over the same period to 224 a day. These numbers were still only a fraction of what the city endured during Omicron’s winter surge.

Bettigole told the Board of Health on Thursday evening that hospitalizations had since fallen to 65.

The restaurant industry had pushed back against the city’s reimposed mask mandate, saying workers would bear the brunt of customer anger over the new rules.

Several businesses and residents have filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania state court seeking the cancellation of the renewed mandate. The health board’s vote to overturn the warrant came after board members met privately to discuss the lawsuit.

“We were very pleased to see Philadelphia make the right decision to overturn the mask mandate,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Thomas W King III, who was among those involved in the year’s successful legal challenge. latest against the statewide mask mandate in schools.

Shortly before the end-of-term announcement, the issue arose during Thursday night’s debate between the three leading Democratic candidates seeking the party’s nomination for the open U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania. Notably, two of them, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman and State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta of Philadelphia, spoke out against the mandate.

“We have to get past COVID,” Fetterman said, adding, “we have to live with this virus, and I don’t think it’s appropriate to go back with a mask mandate or with shutdowns.”

U.S. Representative Conor Lamb of suburban Pittsburgh said he hated wearing masks but thought Philadelphia officials were “trying to do what’s best for everyone.”

Most states and cities dropped their masking requirements in February and early March following new guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that focus less on case numbers and more on hospital capacity and said most Americans can safely remove their masks.

The Justice Department, meanwhile, said it was appealing a judge’s order that struck down the federal mask mandate on planes and trains and at travel centers. The CDC has asked the Justice Department to appeal the ruling by a federal judge in Florida earlier this week.