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Masked whiplash hits Philly amid changing rules across US

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Philadelphians could be excused if they felt a boost on Friday as the city dropped its indoor mask mandate just days after becoming the first U.S. metropolis to reimpose mandatory masking in response to a surge in COVID cases. -19 and hospitalizations.

City officials who previously stressed the need to prevent a new wave of coronavirus infections by forcing people to mask indoors abruptly canceled it after what they said was an unexpected drop in numbers of people in the hospital and a leveling of infections.

The city had taken a lot of heat for renewing the masking order, with a lawsuit already filed and two of the three leading Democratic candidates for the open US Senate seat from Pennsylvania opposing it during a debate on Thursday evening. But city officials insisted Friday that their decision was about the data, not outside legal or political pressure.

“I said when I announced this that if we did not see hospitalizations increasing, that we had to rethink this and that we should not have a mandate. So that’s what we’re doing today,” the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, said Friday during a virtual press conference.

The rapid about-face in Philadelphia comes as travelers across the country removed masks in response to a federal judge’s ruling that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its authority by issuing a mask mandate on planes and trains and in travel centres. The Biden administration is seductive.

SEPTA, Philadelphia’s transit authority, dropped its mask mandate this week after the ruling.


This week, Boston leaders urged passengers to wear masks, but stopped requiring them.

Los Angeles County, meanwhile, bucked national trends and said Thursday it would still require masks on public transportation, including trains, subways, buses, taxis and rideshares. Cases have increased over the past week and hospitalizations have plateaued after falling in the previous two months.

In Philadelphia, the restaurant industry had complained that workers would bear the brunt of customer anger over the new rules, while several businesses and residents filed suit in state court to have it thrown out. Few masks were worn in a Philadelphia 76ers home playoff game this week.

City officials said their decision to rescind the mandate, just days after it took effect Monday, was based on the numbers, though daily fluctuations are common.

Hospitalizations peaked at 82 on Sunday and have since dropped to 65 on Thursday, according to the Department of Public Health. New confirmed infections peaked at 377 on April 14 but have since leveled off. City health officials said that was enough to convince them that mandatory masking was no longer necessary.

“It’s a very short amount of time, because that’s the amount of time we needed to see what was going to happen next,” Bettigole said.

People obviously heeded the city’s April 11 announcement that masking would again be required in indoor public spaces, she said, helping to drive the numbers down.

“I think what we’ve seen is that Philadelphians are really paying attention to public health and doing what they need to do,” Bettigole said, noting surrounding cities and states continue to see an increase. the number of cases and hospitalizations.

In addition to ditching the mask mandate, the city is also getting rid of its metrics-based COVID-19 response system, in place since February, which automatically triggered indoor masking and other restrictions in response to the increase in the number of cases, hospitalizations and positivity rates.