Philadelphians will have to wear masks inside public spaces again as the pandemic resurfaces in the city, whereinfections have spiked in recent weeks, city officials said Monday.
"Starting today, we're asking businesses to dig up those 'masks required' signs and start hanging them in your windows," Cheryl Bettigole, the city's health commissioner, said in a a news conference Monday afternoon. "Beginning Monday, April 18, our health inspectors will begin enforcing the mask mandate again," she added, noting that the city is allowing a week's grace period to get the word out.
"We're putting this into place on the early side. If we were to wait for hospitalizations and deaths to rise, it's already too late," Bettigole said.
"We have reached the threshold" previously set to reintroduce a requirement that residents must cover their faces inside public areas, the physician added.
Philadelphia is now experiencing 142 new COVID-19 cases a day, a rate that is more than 50% higher than what the city was seeing 10 days ago.
The revived mandate comes just over a month after Philadelphia dispensed with COVID-19 precautions, and ahead of busy Easter weekend. "We don't want to keep masks longer than we have to," Bettigole said on March 2, when the city lifted its indoor mask mandate.
Businesses need a heads up to comply with a renewed mask mandate, according to Shawn Leahy, the general manager of Positano Coast, an Italian restaurant in Philadelphia.
"We have some masks in house right now, but if we need to get 500 in by Tuesday we may not be able to," Leahy told CBS Philly.
Philadelphia and other parts of the country, mostly in the Northeast, are seeing an increase in coronavirus cases as the Omicron BA.2 subvariant.
"Based on what we've seen in Europe, we could see another COVID-19 wave sooner than later," Bettigole said a week ago in a statement.
Citywide, 46 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, six on ventilators, according to health officials. More than 5,000 people in Philadelphia have died of the disease, about 750 during omicron wave, despite the variant being milder than previous versions, the commissioner noted.
Philadelphia already requires masks in health care facilities, nursing homes and on public transit, but facial coverings are otherwise optional, including in schools except Head Start programs.
The mask requirement comes back into play during a week in which Philadelphia's more than 203,000 public school children are on spring break. Officials had already planned a week of masking after spring break, so "they're in good shape the next two weeks," Bettigole explained in her briefing.
Other parts of the U.S. are also telling residents to consider covering their faces as the BA.2 variant spreads. New York public health officials recently recommended masks be worn in all indoor public spaces in five counties in the central part of the state, which ended indoor masks mandates for public places and schools on February 10 and March 2, respectively.
More than 985,000 Americans have died of COVID-19.
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