Philly doesn’t plan to ditch mask mandate

A woman wears a mask following the CDC recommendation that fully vaccinated Americans wear masks as the highly transmissible Delta variant has led to a surge in infections.
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Though coronavirus cases appear to have leveled off locally, there are no plans to lift Philadelphia’s indoor mask mandate, the city’s top health official said Wednesday.

The requirement, which was reinstated a month-and-a-half ago, has had “fantastic results,” Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole told reporters.

“It isn’t costing people their jobs,” she said. “It’s not costing people their livelihood. We are likely to keep (the mandate) until this pandemic is really well under control because it’s working well.”

Masks are required for customers inside most businesses, except for those that have opted to require proof of vaccination for all staff and patrons. People at unseated, outdoor events with more than 1,000 in attendance must also mask up.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration implemented the rule Aug. 12, however neither Pennsylvania nor New Jersey have moved to reinstate a masking mandate.

COVID-19 infections, after a Delta variant-fueled spike, have decreased slightly in Philadelphia since late August, and the positive test rate has dropped significantly, from 7.4% on Aug. 12 to 2.9% Sept. 19.

Bettigole said the city is currently averaging 274 new cases a day.

Meanwhile, 10,800 Philadelphians have received third doses of COVID-19 vaccine, including around 1,000 who rushed to get a booster over the weekend, officials said. That might be an undercount, Bettigole said Wednesday, with data still being reported.

Extra shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were approved by federal regulators Friday, opening the door for millions of Americans to get a third shot.

“Booster doses are intended to help keep their effectiveness high for the people who are most likely to have severe COVID if they catch it,” Bettigole said.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending third doses of Pfizer for people ages 65 and older, those living in nursing homes and anyone between the ages of 50 and 64 with underlying medical conditions.

Anyone 18 and older with health problems that put them at increased risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms can also choose to get another shot.

CDC director Rochelle Walensky overruled an expert advisory panel by adding essential workers to the priority list for boosters.

“As we’ve seen here in Philadelphia, frontline workers are at higher risk of COVID, so we’re glad to see that the CDC included them in their booster recommendation,” Bettigole said.

People are advised to wait six months after their second Pfizer dose to get the third shot.

A select group of immunocompromised individuals have been approved to receive a third Pfizer or Moderna dose just weeks after their initial shots.

The booster is available at all clinics offering Pfizer vaccines, according to the city. People can filter sites by brand at www.phila.gov/vaccine or www.vaccines.gov.

Bettigole said the city will review vaccination records and text residents when they become eligible for a third dose. Additional outreach will be conducted in the city’s lowest vaccinated zip codes, she added.

Just over 84% of all Philadelphia adults are at least partially vaccinated, and nearly 70% are fully immunized, according to health department data.

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