Philadelphia Abandons New Indoor Mask Mandate After Backlash

POfficials from the City of Hiladelphia announced Thursday that they are ending their indoor mask mandate. This abruptly happened just days after residents had to wear masks once more due to an increase in infection rates.

The Board of Health voted Thursday to rescind the mandate, according to the Philadelphia health department, which released a statement that cited “decreasing hospitalizations and a leveling of case counts.”

Monday saw the mandate take effect. Philadelphia’s indoor mask mandate was lifted March 2nd.

While the data that supported its reversed masking decision was not available, the health department said it would provide more details on Friday. Philadelphia became the first U.S. metropolis to reinstate an indoor masking mandate. However, it was met with fierce opposition and a legal battle to repeal the requirement. Few masks were worn at the Philadelphia 76ers’ home playoff game on Monday, even though they were required under city rules.

According to city officials, the mandate would be lifted on Friday morning.

“The City will move to strongly recommending masks in indoor public spaces as opposed to a mask mandate,” the health department said in a statement.

On April 11, the city declared that the mandate would be reaffirmed. Dr. Cheryl Bettigole was the health commissioner and stated it was essential to stop a possible new wave of cases fueled by an omicron-subvariant. She said Philadelphia had crossed the threshold of rising cases at which the city’s guidelines call for people to wear masks indoors.

“If we fail to act now, knowing that every 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 through Monday, when the health department reported 82 patients in the hospital with COVID-19 — up nearly 80% from a week earlier — with confirmed cases up 58% over that same span to 224 per day. These numbers are still only a fraction of the number seen in the city during the wintertime micron surge.

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.

A number of residents and businesses sued Pennsylvania’s state court seeking to overturn this mandate.

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

Shortly before news broke that the mandate was ending, the issue came up during Thursday night’s debate between the three leading Democratic candidates seeking the party’s nomination for Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat. Two of them (Lt. Governor. John Fetterman of Philadelphia and Malcolm Kenyatta, a state representative from Philadelphia, voted against the mandate.

“We have to move past COVID,” said Fetterman, adding that “we have to live with this virus, and I don’t believe going backwards with a mask mandate or with closures is appropriate.”

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

In February and March, most states and cities gave up their masking regulations. These changes were made by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They placed less emphasis on cases and more on hospital capacities and stated that Americans can safely remove their masks.

The Justice Department, meanwhile, said it is appealing a judge’s order that voided the federal mask mandate on planes and trains and in travel hubs. The CDC requested that the Justice Department appeal the Florida federal court’s decision earlier in the week.

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