Philly health chief says people should “strongly consider” wearing masks

FILE PHOTO: Shoppers browse in a supermarket while wearing masks in St Louis
Shoppers browse in a supermarket while wearing masks to help slow the spread of coronavirus disease.
Reuters file

Philadelphia’s top health official is advising people to “strongly consider” wearing a mask indoors in public amid fears of another potential coronavirus wave.

Facial coverings are currently not required, but the city has hit one of two benchmarks that would trigger the return of the mask mandate in most indoor settings.

“Based on what we’ve seen in Europe, we could see another COVID-19 wave sooner rather than later,” Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said in a statement Monday afternoon.

“As we see more cases of COVID-19 in the city, everyone’s risk goes up,” she continued. “That means that now is the time to start taking precautions.”

Cases in Philadelphia have increased more than 50% over the past 10 days, one of the markers established by the city’s Department of Public Health to determine when to reinstate restrictions.

Under the department’s guidelines, if one of two other criteria is met — either COVID-19-related hospitalizations rise above 50 or there is an average of more than 100 infections a day — masks would be required inside businesses and other venues.

Data provided by health officials indicates the city is nearing those marks. Philadelphia is averaging 94 daily cases and 48 virus patients are in local hospitals.

No vaccine or testing mandates would go into effect if Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration moved to the second least-restrictive phase, known as “Level 2: Mask Precautions,” in the city’s plan.

Bettigole recommended residents to make sure they have a supply of masks and at-home COVID-19 testing kits. She also encouraged people to stay up-to-date on their coronavirus shots.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week began recommending that people over 50 years old and those with underlying medical conditions receive a second booster dose four months after their initial booster.

City leaders dropped the mask mandate March 2, though the requirement has remained in effect on public transit and inside healthcare institutions. Philadelphia public and Catholic schools made facial coverings optional on March 9.

For the week of March 27, just under 600 people in the city tested positive, up from a recent low of 343 earlier in the month but still far below January’s high of 24,600.

Additionally, last week’s positive test rate, at 3.1%, was up from 1.4% on March 6, according to health department numbers.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 5,006 Philadelphians have died from coronavirus complications.

“This loss is unfathomable, and will be felt in countless ways across our city for years to come,” Kenney said Monday in a statement. “While we know much more about how to manage and treat COVID-19 compared to two years ago, it is still a serious illness that continues to take lives.”