Philadelphia announced Monday that it would be reinstating its indoor mask mandate, becoming the first major U.S. city to do so this spring.
The policy goes into effect for all indoor public spaces on April 18, including schools and childcare settings, businesses, restaurants and government buildings. The city’s Department of Public Health stated that it made the decision to reinstate the mandate after COVID cases rose more than 50% during the past 10 days.
“By implementing the mask mandate sooner rather than later, the Health Department hopes to keep the number of cases from skyrocketing, like we saw in December and January from the Omicron variant,” the Philadelphia Department of Public Health said in a statement.
“If we can keep cases low, it will be less likely that our most vulnerable residents will be exposed. If we can keep cases low, we can protect our hospitals from being overrun, like they were in January.”
The Department of Public Health added that the mask mandate will be revoked when the city reaches two of the three metrics in its All Clear Level protocols. This includes an average of fewer than 100 new cases per day or fewer than 50 hospitalizations per day, or when cases have increased by less than 50% during the previous 10 days.
As of April 11, Philadelphia was averaging 142 new cases of COVID-19 and 127 hospitalizations per day.
The return of the mask mandate was praised by some health experts for its proactive approach.
Raifman added, “Happy to see much love for data-driven mask policies. Setting up in advance could help reduce size of surges due to new variants or seasonality.”
Similarly, Dr. Jason Johnson, an associate professor at Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism & Communication, commented on the decision, “Maybe instead of pushing a policy of “Well you didn’t DIE did you?” The #COVID policy should be to prevent people from getting sick period. Perhaps then things like this won’t keep happening every 6 months.”
Others, however, criticized the renewed mandate. They noted that case numbers are still below the record-highs seen during previous surges and that there is still ample hospital capacity in the city.
Joe Holden, an anchor for CBS Philadelphia, noted that the Department of Public Health is “rejecting” guidance released by the PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia on April 8.
“It is important for those living in the north to anticipate some increased transmission over the next couple of weeks so high-risk individuals can alter routines & #masking, but our team advises against required masking given that hospital capacity is good,” PolicyLab stated.
The decision also received pushback from Dr. Leana Wen, a public health professor at The Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University and former commissioner of the Baltimore City Health Department.
Wen noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently classifies Philadelphia County as having a low community COVID-19 transmission risk.
“With readily available & effective vaccines, why aren’t we switching from case counts to the better metric of hospitalization?” she asked.