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August 13, 2021

Philly to implement COVID-19 vaccine mandate for colleges, health care systems

Some higher education institutions are already requiring students, faculty to be fully vaccinated for upcoming semester

Health News COVID-19
Philly colleges COVID-19 vaccine mandate Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

The University of Pennsylvania and Penn Medicine are already requiring all students and staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Institutions of higher education and health care systems across Philadelphia will be the city's next targets in its effort to drive down coronavirus infections and increase vaccinations. 

Philly will require all college students and staff, as well as health care employees, to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 15. Exemptions will only be permitted for medical or religious reasons.

Exempt health care workers will be required to wear double masks while indoors, practice social distancing and undergo COVID-19 testing twice a week. 

Colleges and universities will be required to offer exempt students, faculty and staff one or more of the following options.

PCR testing once a week or antigen testing twice a week
•Double masking and social distancing in indoor public settings at schools with 90% or more of their population fully vaccinated
•Virtual learning opportunities

"I have no doubt that there will be some pieces of this that we will need to tweak or change in the coming weeks," Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said. "But by making this announcement now, we're giving time to the city's health care workers and college students to do what they need to do and get vaccinated, and the institutions that they are a part of to prepare."

The city's latest mandate comes just days after Philly reimplemented its indoor mask mandate for public settings. Businesses and public indoor spaces that can verify that everyone, including staff and customers, is fully vaccinated are exempt from the requirement. Masks also are now required for unseated, outdoor gatherings of more than 1,000 people.

But after receiving public input over its latest guidelines, the city amended its indoor mask requirement to create a new category of essential businesses where Philly's "mask or vaccine" option will not be present. Establishments such as pharmacies, doctors offices, grocery stores and urgent care centers will simply require everyone — regardless of their vaccination status — to wear masks.

"These new mandates, together with the mask mandate announced earlier this week, add additional layers of protection for Philadelphia residents," Bettigole said. "We will need that protection as COVID continues to sweep across the country. But by taking these measures now, we hope to be better prepared for the weeks and months to come."

Philly's newly-implemented rules come as the city is currently experiencing substantial COVID-19 transmission, according to the CDC. Philly is averaging 180 new COVID-19 infections per day over the past two weeks as the highly-contagious delta variant continues to spread across the city. The daily average has doubled three times since early July, when Philly was seeing around 20 new COVID-19 infections per day.

Hospitalizations have risen to more than 100 people for the first time since June, more than doubling from a low of 48 last month. The percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back with positive results has climbed above 5%, after falling to as low as 1% in recent months.

More than 63% of Philadelphia adults are fully vaccinated, while more than 77% of adults have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine, according to the city.

A number of colleges and universities, such as the Community College of Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University and Thomas Jefferson University, are already requiring all students, faculty and staff to be fully vaccinated for the upcoming fall semester.

Health care systems such as the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Jefferson Health and Penn Medicine have already mandated all workers to be fully vaccinated.

Philly also is moving toward requiring all municipal workers to be fully vaccinated. Employees who are not vaccinated, including the limited number of people who would be exempt from this policy, will have to wear double masks to work.

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