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May 20, 2022

COVID-19 cases are spiking, but Philly isn't reinstating a mask mandate

Hospitalizations have nearly doubled in the city over the last three weeks, part of a trend being seen throughout the Northeast

COVID-19 caseloads are rising quickly in the Philadelphia region, but city officials aren't planning to bring back an indoor mask mandate.

Each of the four suburban Philadelphia counties are experiencing high community spread, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. So are Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties in South Jersey. Because transmission in these areas are high, the CDC recommends people wear masks indoors in public. 

Community spread within Philadelphia is considered medium by the CDC. But Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said health officials are concerned about the increasing COVID-19 cases. 

There were 142 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Philadelphia on Thursday – nearly double the total of three weeks ago, city health officials said. The city is averaging 434 new COVID-19 cases per day, the New York Times' COVID-19 tracker reports.

Bettigole said there are no plans for a citywide mask mandate, but she encouraged people to wear them indoors given the increased risk.

"While we are not looking to reinstate a mask mandate at this time, now is the time for Philadelphians to remember that the pandemic is still here and take precautions," she said.

The city's last mask mandate only lasted four days in April. It was walked back following public outcry.

But at least two Montgomery County school districts have decided to reinstate their mask mandates.

Masks are now required when students at the Cheltenham School District and the Lower Merion School District are indoors, 6ABC reports.

The districts made the change based on recommendations from the Montgomery County Department of Public Health, a response to the CDC moving the county's COVID-19 risk rating from medium to high. 

Some school districts in New Jersey reinstated their mask mandates as early as last week. Gov. Phil Murphy is encouraging, but not requiring, schools to do this.

The state is currently faring worse than Pennsylvania when it comes to caseloads.

Burlington County is averaging 57 new daily cases for every 100,000 residents, which is more than twice the rate in Philadelphia, which is averaging 27 new cases per 100,000 residents, the New York Times reports. The rate in Camden and Gloucester counties is about 50 per 100,000. 

The outlook isn't much better in Montgomery County, which is averaging 40 new daily cases for every 100,000 residents. The rates in Delaware, Chester and Bucks counties are all in the 30s.

Similar surges in cases and hospitalizations are happening across the nation. About one-third of Americans live in a county where the COVID-19 risk is currently high. The situation is more intense in the Northeast, where that rate jumps to 40%.

The surge is fueled by a new subvariant descended from omicron. The latest version is called BA.2.12.1. It made up nearly half of the nation's cases last week, which is up from 39% from the week prior.

Aside from masking, Bettigole also recommended people get vaccinated and boosted. City residents can find out more about getting inoculated and learn how to make an appointment on the city's website.

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