Philadelphia’s indoor mask tenure is coming to an end.
“Due to declining hospitalizations and leveling of case counts, the city will strongly recommend masks in indoor public spaces as opposed to a mask mandate,” a Philadelphia Department of Health spokesperson told NBC10 Thursday night. “Given the latest data, the BOH voted to rescind the warrant.”
The warrant will be lifted on Friday.
The reverse decision comes just days after Philadelphia became the first major city in the United States to reinstate its Covid-19 mask mandate for indoor activities as the highly contagious omicron BA.2 subvariant drives new cases up of Covid across the country.
The health department did not release data to support its reversal of masking, saying more information would be provided on Friday. But the health commissioner, Dr Cheryl Bettigole, told the health board 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 reinstated its mask mandate on Monday after cases jumped 50% from April 1 to April 11, health officials said. Hospitalizations were stable as of April 11, but have since risen rapidly. The number of people hospitalized with COVID in the city has almost doubled in the past week, from 46 people on April 11 to 82 people on Monday – which health officials called a “worrying sign that this wave could be more dangerous than we hadn’t expected.”
“We have watched this wave of the pandemic sweep through Europe and it looks like it is now coming to Philadelphia,” Bettigole said in a statement Monday. “We must do all we can to ensure that our most vulnerable neighbors and loved ones stay safe. Each of us has the ability to save lives today by putting on our masks and helping to stop the ‘increase in cases.’
The city was at Level 1, or “all clear,” after the initial omicron surge receded, meaning mandatory measures such as indoor mask mandates had been lifted. But the recent surge in cases driven by BA.2 has moved the city to Tier 2, or “caution,” which requires masks.
Many cities and states lifted mask mandates in February and March as cases fell from a pandemic peak of around 808,000 new cases on average per day in mid-January to around 35,000 new cases per day this week. But infections across the United States have started to rise in recent weeks, and cities like Philadelphia are seeing a further rise in cases.
The Transportation Security Administration said Monday it would stop enforcing mask rules hours after U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, Fla., ruled the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had overstepped its bounds. when it mandated face coverings on planes, trains, buses and other modes of public transport.
While Monday’s initial decision lifted Philadelphia’s mask rules on public transportation, including SEPTA, the mandate remained in place for other indoor venues, including restaurants, gyms and businesses. Many business owners and residents have expressed confusion about when and where they should wear masks.
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.