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Philadelphia brings back mask indoor mandate as covid cases rise

Yllka Murati waits for a delivery driver to pick up takeout orders at Philadelphia's Penrose Diner in November 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)
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Public health officials in Philadelphia announced on Monday that the city’s indoor mask mandate would return beginning April 18 as coronavirus cases there rise, making it the first major U.S. city to reinstate a mask mandate this spring.

“Our city remains open,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. “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.”

The return to indoor masking comes just over a month after Philadelphia dropped its mask mandate — a move undertaken by many other cities and counties that had similar restrictions in place at the start of 2022. Most of those restrictions lifted after a significant dip in cases after the omicron surge peaked in January.

Cases in some places — including the District and Philadelphia — appear to be modestly rising again, driven in part by the spread of the BA. 2 variant, which has become dominant in the United States. Although cases are ticking up, the numbers remain far lower than they were during the omicron surge in January.

Tracking coronavirus cases

Philadelphia has a set of criteria that determine when covid restrictions will go into place. On Monday, officials announced that the city had moved from the “all clear” level to “level 2,” which requires residents to wear masks in indoor public spaces.

The mask mandate will be lifted again when the city meets the criteria to return to the “all clear” level, officials said.

N95 masks are now the preferred face covering to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus. Here is what you need to know. (Video: Daron Taylor, John Farrell/The Washington Post)

Although an indoor mask mandate is not recommended in Philadelphia by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s standards, local officials defended reverting to a higher level of caution on Monday.

“The decisions that we’re making here in Philly have to do with local conditions, and the CDC has been clear in messaging… that local conditions do matter,” Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said at a news conference on Monday.

She said the more cautious approach is justified because Philadelphia has a history of disparities leading to worse public health consequences for Black and Brown communities within the city.

“It does make sense to be more careful in Philadelphia than perhaps in an affluent suburb,” she added.

The city has recorded an average of 142 new cases each day over the last two weeks, with 4.5 percent of coronavirus tests coming back positive during that time. There are 46 hospitalized covid-19 patients in the city, and six are on ventilators, public health officials said.

Philadelphia does not have a vaccination requirement in place to enter restaurants, bars or other businesses. At least 76 percent of residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated, officials said on Monday. Just 35.7 percent of children ages 5 to 11 have received at least one dose of the vaccine after it was authorized for that age group in October.