The return of Philadelphia’s mask mandate
Kylie McGovern, Editor
Header Image: New York Times
Philadelphians wearing masks outside of City Hall
On Monday, April 11, Philadelphia announced that the indoor mask mandate would be reinstated beginning on April 18 because of rising COVID-19 cases which have risen more than 50 percent in 10 days. This rise is the threshold that the city’s guidelines call for people to wear masks indoors. Health officials believe the recent spike is being driven by the highly transmissible subvariant of omicron: BA.2. Spreading rapidly throughout Europe and Asia, BA.2 has become dominant in the U.S. and more specifically Philadelphia in recent weeks. Currently, Philadelphia averages 142 new cases per day.
Masks will be required in all indoor public spaces, including schools and childcare settings, businesses, restaurants and government buildings. Once the mandate goes into effect, residents will be asked to report any business not complying with the mandate. The mask mandate is tied to the COVID-19 Response Levels, and as COVID cases rise in Philly, the Philadelphia Public Health Department wants to protect its most vulnerable residents and they believe wearing a mask around others is an easy way to do that.
Before the update, Philadelphia was operating on Level One which means that two or more of the following are true: average new cases per day are less than 100, hospitalizations are less than 50 or cases have increased by less than 50 percent in the previous 10 days. There are no vaccine or testing requirements for establishments that serve food or drink in Level One. Within Level One, there is no expressed mask requirement except in schools, healthcare institutions, congregate settings and on public transportation.
Since the city is transitioning into Level Two, two or more of the following are true: average new cases per day are less than 225, hospitalizations are less than 100 and cases have increased by more than 50 percent in the previous 10 days. With this new phase, the city will be requiring that citizens wear a mask when indoors in public places, but there is no expressed vaccine or testing requirement for places that serve food or drink.
Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said businesses can choose to be mask-free if they require all employees and visitors to prove they have been vaccinated. Bettigole believes that if the city failed to require masks now, “knowing that every previous wave of infections has been followed by a wave of hospitalizations, and then a wave of deaths, then it will be too late for many of our residents.”
Although the national increase for COVID-19 is relatively low, about three percent, cases in northeastern cities like New York City and Washington, D.C., have been higher. Some colleges in the northeast, including Columbia, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins, have reinstated indoor mask mandates recently. La Salle University has yet to make a statement about mask requirements, but in the past, La Salle has followed suit with the city of Philadelphia’s guidelines. Some La Salle students are frustrated with the new city guidelines. Sophomore Enrique Carrasco says that the new guidelines are confusing because cases are not as high as they have been in the past when new mask mandates were instated. Senior criminal justice student Audrey Walker says she is “curious to see if the university will follow the city mandate since cases on campus are very low right now,” and senior psychology student Frankie Knoll is concerned about having to wear a mask at graduation if the mandate is put in place. “I think the new mask mandate can be frustrating for some people tired of wearing them, but I think it’s a good idea to protect Philly and get the numbers down,” said graduate student Sarah Lundquist. In addition, sophomore David O’Brien hopes that La Salle maintains the current policy, rather than mandating masks again.