April 05, 2022
Philadelphia lifted its indoor mask requirement more than a month ago, but the restriction may soon return due to a recent uptick in COVID-19 infections.
Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said Monday that people should "strongly consider" wearing masks again in public indoor settings to combat the increase.
Coronavirus cases in Philly have risen by 50% over the last 10 days, according to the city's health department. The city has averaged 94 new COVID-19 infections per day over the last two weeks.
More than 3% of COVID-19 tests administered over that span have returned positive results — a figure that has tripled since last month. There are currently 48 patients hospitalized due to COVID-19.
Bettigole said the steady increase in infections means Philly could experience another COVID-19 wave "sooner rather than later."
"As we see more cases of COVID-19 in the city, everyone's risk goes up," Bettigole said. "That means that now is the time to start taking precautions."
Residents should prepare for another possible surge by stocking up on masks and at-home COVID-19 tests, as well as getting vaccinated and staying up-to-date on one's necessary doses, Bettigole said.
Philadelphia remains at the "All Clear" level of its four-tier COVID-19 response system. The response levels are determined based upon daily coronavirus infections, hospitalization numbers and positivity rates.
However, Philly is teetering on a move back into the response system's second level, which would reinstate the indoor mask mandate. The city can remain at the "All Clear" tier if daily COVID-19 cases remain below 100 or coronavirus hospitalizations stay south of 50. The percentage increase of new COVID-19 infections over a 10-day period would also have to tick down below 50%.
Philly eased its COVID-19 indoor mask requirement last month as case numbers and hospitalizations plummeted. Masks remain required in Head Start school programs, health care settings, congregate living settings and on public transit systems, including SEPTA.
The city health department's warning comes as the BA.2 omicron variant has become the dominant coronavirus strain in the country, accounting for more than 72% of new cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
BA.2 is a more contagious omicron variant that spreads about 30% more easily and is believed to be more effective at evading the immune system, according to studies.
BA.2 already has caused a second wave of omicron cases across parts of Europe and became the dominant strain in South Africa, India and the Philippines. Scientists in the U.S. have been concerned that it could cause another spike in infections here because most states have dropped their COVID-19 restrictions.
The uptick in COVID-19 infections in Philly also comes as the number of coronavirus vaccinations has slowed in recent weeks. The health department recorded only about 21,000 vaccine doses administered over the last two weeks.
Nearly 76% of residents ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated, and more than 93% have received at least one dose, according to the city's COVID-19 vaccine dashboard. More than 31% of residents ages 12 and up have received a booster shot.
Almost 28% of children ages 5-11 are fully vaccinated, and more than 35% have received at least one dose.
Philly also recently surpassed more than 5,000 deaths caused by COVID-19.
"I am deeply saddened by the loss of 5,000 Philadelphians — our friends, coworkers, neighbors and loved ones — to COVID-19," Mayor Jim Kenney said. "This loss is unfathomable, and will be felt in countless ways across our city for years to come."