Philadelphia Becomes First Major US City to Reinstate Indoor Mask Mandate

After seeing a 50% rise in new COVID-19 infections over the past 10 days, Philadelphia became the first major U.S. city to reinstate its indoor mask mandate on Monday.

It will be back to the future when health inspectors start enforcing the rule for city businesses and other facilities on April 18, just weeks after the previous mandate ended March 2. Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole told a press conference Monday that the city’s businesses and institutions need to “dig up those old masks-required signs” to rehang.

The city is immediately implementing “mask precautions” with a one-week “education period” for businesses before next Monday’s mandate enforcement.

Philadelphia’s restaurant industry is not happy with resurrecting restrictions, telling health officials that its workers will once again face the wrath of diners. An industry spokesman says the announcement is a “major blow to thousands of small businesses” trying to return to normalcy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Philadelphia’s risk level is still low and continues to recommend mask wearing based on “personal preference.” The city only reports 46 current hospitalizations, and new cases of the BA.2 subvariant have reached 140 a day.

That is far below the pandemic peak, but the rise in cases is likely being driven by the new subvariant, which has spread quickly in Europe and Asia and is now dominant in the U.S.

However, if new cases reach between 225 and 500 per day, by the city’s requirements health officials will reimpose mandates requiring a vaccine card or negative COVID-19 test be shown before entering restaurants or bars. Nationwide, the CDC reports the 7-day average for new cases over the past three weeks has fallen to around 26,000 after reaching a high of 806,739 on Jan. 15.

Philadelphia’s response to what is so far a limited outbreak is undoubtedly disheartening for those who want the pandemic and its accompanying restrictions over for good. Even the CDC, normally on board with any heightened precautions, is not recommending a return to masking. It bears watching the public’s reaction to yet another mandate. And even moreso, just how far municipal governments are willing to go to combat what health officials say is a virus that is here to stay.