One of the first major US States to restore the mask mandate due to rising cases, Philadelphia will require city businesses to mask up once again, starting April 18.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia have risen more than 50% in 10 days, the threshold at which the city’s guidelines call for people to wear masks indoors, said Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, the health commissioner.
Health officials believe the recent spike is being driven by the highly transmissible BA.2 subvariant of omicron, which has spread rapidly throughout Europe and Asia, and has become dominant in the U.S. in recent weeks.
Philadelphia dropped its mask mandate on March 2, and Bettigole acknowledged “it was wonderful to feel that sense of normalcy again. I sincerely wish we didn’t have to do this again. But I am very worried about our vulnerable neighbors and loved ones,” she said.
“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. “This is our chance to get ahead of the pandemic, to put our masks on until we have more information about the severity of this new variant.”
The city is reporting more than 140 cases per day — a fraction of what it saw at the height of the omicron surge — and hospitalizations remain low at only 46 patients. About 750 Philadelphia residents died in the wintertime omicron surge, Bettigole said.