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May 04, 2021

Pennsylvania will remove COVID-19 restrictions on Memorial Day

Philadelphia is proceeding more cautiously and may keep regulations in place into the summer

Government COVID-19
Pennsylvania Lifting Restrictions Jon Tuleya/PhillyVoice

Pennsylvania plans to lift COVID-19 mitigation orders on May 31, 2021. The state's mask mandate will be removed once 70% of the population is fully vaccinated. Philadelphia officials have not yet determined a timeframe to make these changes.

Pennsylvania's COVID-19 mitigation orders are on track to be lifted May 31, with plans to roll back the state's mask mandate once 70% of adults are fully vaccinated. 

Philadelphia residents will need to be more patient as the city takes a wait-and-see approach. 

The state's change will mark an end to more than a year of restrictions on restaurants, bars and indoor and outdoor gatherings. Pennsylvania has seen falling COVID-19 transmission and rising vaccinations in recent weeks as surrounding states like Delaware and New Jersey make similar plans to curtail mitigation orders.

"We continue to make significant progress in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19 and as more Pennsylvania adults get vaccinated and guidance from the CDC evolves, we can continue to move forward with our reopening efforts," acting Pennsylvania Health Secretary Alison Beam said Tuesday.

Lifting Pennsylvania's mitigation orders will not affect requirements that hospitals and long-term care facilities must report new cases. The governor's disaster emergency proclamation will remain in place as well.

Philadelphia has not yet committed to following the state's timeline for easing restrictions, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said. The city's transmission rates, deaths and vaccination progress will remain the key factors leadership evaluates moving forward. Farley said he's been in communication with state health officials.

"We talk in general about strategy and they understand the trade-offs," Farley said.

The city previously announced plans to scale back restrictions on restaurants and gatherings effective Friday, but no additional plans have been solidified at this point.

About 42% of Pennsylvania residents 18 and older have been fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, according to federal data, and about 63% have had at least one dose. In Philadelphia, about 36% of residents 18 and older have been fully vaccinated, including 59% of people over the age of 65.

Farley said he plans to review the changes in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but issued a warning about the rush to fully reopen.

"Everyone wants this epidemic to end, but this epidemic is not over yet," Farley said. "We have more than 100 people being hospitalized and 50 people dying every week now. We're making great strides, but only about a third of adults are fully vaccinated. 

"This epidemic has unfolded in a series of waves. It's good to see this particular wave receding, but we are still right now vulnerable to future waves of the epidemic. I don't want to see any one die unnecessarily."

Farley said that lifting restrictions on high-risk activities could potentially backfire.

"Just in general, I'm concerned about restarting high-risk activities too soon," Farley stated. "We have many cases of infection occurring right now and not enough people are vaccinated to protect those people. I certainly hope that people, even if they are allowed to restart certain activities, that they be careful about it and if they're engaging in high-risk activities, be vaccinated first."

Last week, Philadelphia averaged 384 new cases of COVID-19 per day and a test positivity rate of 5%, based on currently available data. The previous week, the city averaged 478 new cases per day and a test positivity rate of 6.1%.

In response to Pennsylvania's plan to end the mask mandate once 70% of adults are vaccinated, Farley contends that still remains a distant consideration.

"It'll be a while, I believe, before Philadelphia has 70% of people who are protected," Farley said. "I hope we get to that point and I think we should defer that decision until we get to that point to see what the epidemic is doing here in Philadelphia ... We'll have to see what's happening to the epidemic and make a judgment call at that time."

Philadelphia's vaccination numbers have been declining in recent weeks, mostly at the large FEMA-run sites in Center City and North Philadelphia. Neighborhood sites and pharmacies have seen lower numbers as well, but not have not had as steep of a drop-off. 

The city also anticipates potentially opening availability of the Pfizer vaccine to children 12 and older, pending FDA approval this month. That would increase the city's vaccine-eligible population by about 80,000.

"We want all of those children to be vaccinated before school starts again in the fall," Farley said.

Looking ahead to the statewide changes on May 31, Beam again stressed the importance of Pennsylvania residents getting vaccinated.

"I encourage Pennsylvanians to take the critical steps needed to put this pandemic behind us by getting vaccinated, follow through with both doses if you receive the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, and continue to take steps like masking, frequent hand washing and sanitizing and social distancing," Beam said.