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February 16, 2022

Philly removes vaccine mandate for indoor dining; masks still required

A new COVID-19 response plan will tighten and loosen restrictions based on infection data

Philadelphia is immediately ending its vaccine mandate for indoor dining in response to declining COVID-19 infection rates. But it could be reimplemented later under a new system that tightens and loosens restrictions based on data trends.

Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole outlined a four-tiered system that will dictate the city's COVID-19 response, including masking mandates, based on case counts, hospitalizations, test positivity rates and case trends. 

The tiers are designed to provide a bit of predictability to businesses, restaurants and residents. As COVID-19 transmission declines, restrictions will be eased. But if a new variant causes another surge, as delta and omicron did, restrictions will become more strict. 

The four tiers are:

• Level 4 (Extreme Caution): The city's vaccine mandate for indoor dining and its masking requirements are in place.
Level 3 (Caution): The vaccine mandate is loosened to allow people to present a negative COVID-19 test result to dine indoors; Masking requirements are in place.
Level 2 (Mask Precautions): There are no vaccine or testing requirements to dine indoors, but masks are required in indoor public places.
Level 1 (All Clear): No vaccine requirement to dine indoors. Masks are not necessary except in schools, health care institutions, congregate settings and on public transportation.

Philadelphia is now in Level 2, which removes indoor dining restrictions but keeps the mask mandate in place. Health officials are optimistic the city will reach Level 1, when masks are no longer be required, in the coming weeks. 

"We could be mask-free in a few weeks, but we can't promise that," Bettigole said, adding that it's difficult to make predictions about how the pandemic will progress.

To reach that level, the city must meet three of the four standards: an average less than 100 new cases per day, fewer than 50 hospitalizations, a positivity rate less than 2% and a significant downward trend during the last 10 days. 

Bettigole said she expects the city to reach the case count metric before the hospitalization metric, largely because hospitalization trends lag behind case count trends. 

As of Wednesday, Philadelphia has averaged 189 new cases per day during the last seven days. There are 300 hospitalizations and a test positivity rate of 2.9%. Cases have dropped by 95% since the omicron surge peaked in January. 

That data firmly places the city in Level 2, which requires it meet at least three of these four benchmarks: an average daily case total of less than 225, fewer than 100 hospitalizations, a test positivity rate less than 5% and a significant downward case trend during the last 10 days. 

The only Level 2 metric the city exceeds is the number of hospitalizations.

The requirements for Levels 3 and 4 can be found on the city's website

Businesses and restaurants can set standards that are more stringent than the current level. Also, the policy does not affect employer vaccine mandates, which are up to individual employers. 

The best practices for city schools have yet to be decided.

COVID-19 restrictions are being eased throughout the region as the omicron surge subsides. New Jersey will end its school mask mandate March 7, and Delaware will end its mandate March 31. Suburban schools operated by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will be mask-optional after Feb. 28, though masks will still be required in city schools. 

City offering $100 to get vaccinated

City residents who complete their primary COVID-19 vaccinations at certain city-run health clinics can soon receive $100 gift cards. 

The program, funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will send the gift cards via email or by mail. The health clinics will not have gift cards to distribute there.

Health officials recommend anyone age 5 and older get vaccinated. 

More than 80% of adults in Philadelphia are fully vaccinated and 90.2% of residents ages 12 and older have received at least once dose. About 53% of children ages 5-11 years old have received at least one dose and 31% of adults have received a booster shot. 

Anyone looking to schedule a vaccine appointment can do so at one of several city-run health clinics, or through the national database for vaccine appointments. Anyone age 5 and older is eligible.