After reporting a dramatic spike in coronavirus infections, Philadelphia became the first major U.S. city to reintroduce its indoor mask ban on Monday, with the city’s top health official stating she wanted to avoid a potential new wave caused by an omicron subvariant.
Confirmed COVID- According to Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, the city’s health commissioner, 19 cases have increased by more than 50% in ten days, above the level at which the city’s standards require residents to wear masks indoors. The highly transmissible BA.2 subvariant of omicron, which has spread swiftly throughout Europe and Asia and has recently become prevalent in the United States, according to health experts.
“It will be too late for many of our citizens if we fail to act now, knowing that every prior wave of infections has been followed by a wave of hospitalizations, and then a wave of fatalities,” Bettigole said, recalling that approximately 750 Philadelphia residents died in the December omicron outbreak. “This is our chance to get ahead of the pandemic, to put our masks on until we know more about the severity of this new variation,” said the researcher.
On April 18, health inspectors will begin enforcing the mask requirement at municipal companies.
Following revised instructions from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that focused less on case statistics and more on hospital capacity, most states and localities abandoned their masking rules in February and early March. At the time, the CDC stated that with the virus on the decline, most Americans could safely remove their masks.
“It was fantastic to have that sense of normalcy again,” Bettigole said of the end of Philadelphia’s indoor mask ban on March 2.
Since then, confirmed cases have climbed to more than 140 per day, still a small fraction of what Philadelphia witnessed during the omicron outbreak, and only 46 individuals have been admitted to hospitals with COVID-19. According to the CDC, community spread in Philadelphia is still modest, to the point that disguising is unnecessary.
The restaurant business has spoken out against the city’s reimposed mask law, claiming that employees would suffer the brunt of client dissatisfaction with the new restrictions.
“This announcement is a big setback for hundreds of small businesses and other operators in the city who were expecting for a comeback this spring,” said Ben Fileccia, senior director of operations for the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association.
While the PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia expects some increased transmission in the northern United States over the next few weeks, hospital admissions have remained low, and “our team advises against required masking given that hospital capacity is good,” according to a statement released Friday.
According to Bettigole, forcing people to wear masks will assist restaurants and other businesses stay open, but a massive new wave of COVID-19 will keep consumers at home. She stated that hospital capacity was only one consideration in her decision to reintroduce the mandate.
“I genuinely hope we don’t have to go through this again,” Bettigole expressed his regret. “However, I’m quite concerned about our vulnerable neighbors and family members.”
As instances have increased, Mayor Eric Adams of New York City has stopped his campaign to loosen several of the public’s virus restrictions, deciding instead to preserve a mask mandate for 2 to 4-year-olds in city schools and preschools for the time being. Most other mask regulations and laws requiring evidence of vaccination to dine in restaurants, work out at gyms, or attend events have already been rescinded by Adams, a Democrat who has stated that New Yorkers should not let the epidemic control their lives.
In light of Philadelphia’s decision, Adams was asked during a virtual press conference Monday afternoon if he was considering reimposing the New York City mask rule. The mayor stated that he will seek advice from his team of medical professionals before reintroducing any restrictions. On Sunday, Adams tested positive for COVID-19.
New York City is currently averaging roughly 1,800 new cases each day, which is more than three times what it was in early March when the city began loosening its guidelines. This does not include the countless unreported home tests to health officials.
Many high-profile figures in Washington have been affected by the new epidemic, including Cabinet members and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut. Mask requirements have been restored at several campuses.
Health authorities in Washington, D.C., said they have no imminent plans to adjust viral guidelines, but they reserve the right to do so in the future.