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And just like that, no more masks again in Philly. Photo: Pexels
And just like that, no more masks again in Philly. Photo: Pexels

Philly ends its mask mandate after not even a week

The city’s time in the national spotlight for reinstating masks is over, along with its mandate.

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On Friday, April 22, Philadelphia dropped its recently reinstated mask mandate, and it also got rid of its tiered system for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rather than enforce masks, health officials opted for a “strong recommendation” instead. The city is also doing away with its self-imposed metrics used to determine what pandemic restrictions the city would take in response to rising cases and hospitalizations. 

“Response levels worked as intended and helped act as an early warning system to level off this current rise in cases. People responded by being careful even prior to the mandate, and so we believe that a strong recommendation is adequate rather than a mandate at this stage of the pandemic,” Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said in a written statement on Friday, April 23.

The reimposed mask mandate only lasted for days. A Philadelphia Health Department spokesperson told NBC on Thursday night that the decision is due to “decreasing hospitalizations and a leveling of case counts.” 

Bettigole told the Board of Health at a public meeting Thursday night that hospitalizations had gone down unexpectedly by 25% in just a matter of days. 

"We’re in a situation that we really had not anticipated being in this soon but it is good news. So I’m really very happy... to say it appears that we no longer need to mandate masks in Philadelphia and that we can actually move to simply a strong recommendation,” Bettigole said. 

On Friday, the health department released data showing that the most recent spike in cases peaked on April 14 at 377 cases and the most recent spike in hospitalizations peaked on April 17 at 82. Since then, both hospitalizations and cases have dropped. 

Philadelphia reinstated its mask mandate on Monday, April 18 after cases jumped 50% from April 1 to the 11. 

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

Several businesses and residents filed suit in state court in Pennsylvania seeking to overturn it, but Bettigole said Friday that the lawsuit played no factor in the choice to end the mandate. 

The city had been at Level 1, or “all clear,” after the initial Omicron variant surge receded, meaning that mandatory measures such as indoor mask mandates had been lifted. But the recent uptick in cases driven by Omicron moved the city to Level 2, or “caution,” which required masks. 

That tiered system is now gone. 

Instead of imposing another metric-based system, Bettigole says the health department plans to continue publishing information on infection and hospitalization numbers with the intention of allowing people to take their own precautions if the situation worsens again. 

That tiered system is now gone.

Bettigole said the health department does not currently have plans to impose another system that uses metrics to determine coronavirus response. Instead, she said, health officials will continue to publicize infection and hospitalization numbers with the aim of allowing people to be informed and take their own precautions if the situation worsens again.


 

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