Philly to ditch COVID restrictions June 11

Mayor Jim Kenney speaks Wednesday, March 24, about an initiative to encourage people to prepare to return to the city.
PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

Philadelphia will fully reopen June 11, lifting all pandemic restrictions except for mask-wearing requirements, officials said Tuesday.

Many city-imposed protocols will be relaxed next Friday, with social distancing rules in most settings being reduced to 3 feet, and Gov. Tom Wolf said event limits in Pennsylvania will be eased Monday.

The Kenney administration’s decision to remove restrictions in the coming weeks follows a wave of similar moves in the region and around the country as coronavirus cases drop and vaccinations increase.

“After so much time, so many sacrifices, so much loss, this is a moment worth celebrating,” Mayor Jim Kenney said during his weekly press briefing. “But as we look forward to our recovery, which will be a strong one, we have to stay mindful that the pandemic is not over.”

Beginning May 21, restaurants and bars, which are allowed to open at 50% occupancy, or 75% if they meet certain ventilation standards, can reduce spacing of chairs from 6 to 3 feet, and customers will no longer be required to order food when purchasing alcohol.

Offices, stores, bowling alleys, museums and outdoor pools will be permitted to operate with no capacity limitations, though masks will be required indoors.

Gyms in Philadelphia will be able to run at 75% occupancy; theaters at 50% with 3 feet of distancing; outdoor events can accommodate 50% of their maximum capacity with 3-foot distancing; and casinos will be able to operate at 50% or 75%, depending on ventilation.

Indoor catered events, such as weddings, will be permitted at 25% capacity, with a cap of 150 people at parties with music, dancing and alcohol. For outdoor gatherings, the rule is 50% with no maximum.

Meanwhile, the Wolf administration, which sets regulations for the suburbs and elsewhere in the state, announced Tuesday that indoor gatherings can increase from 25% to 50% capacity and outdoor events can go from 50% to 75% starting May 17.

All remaining capacity and distancing requirements in Philadelphia will expire June 11, though masking will still be mandated.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said he was uncomfortable setting a date when residents will be able to ditch their masks.

Wolf’s administration has said the state will end its mask mandate when 70% of Pennsylvania’s population is inoculated — right now, just over 50% have received at least one dose.

Kenney said he plans to continue covering his face through the winter, as a way to prevent flu and bronchitis infections as much as COVID-19.

“It’s not a big deal,” he told reporters. “It’s a very light thing. We’re not asking people to carry a piano down the street.”

Philadelphia could continue requiring masks through the fall, Farley said, depending on whether the vaccine, and not the changing of seasons, is driving the decline in cases.

He said the city is dropping its restrictions June 11, instead of May 31, like the state, to give more time for people to receive vaccines and for case rates to fall.

Farley did not rule out another COVID-19 spike, saying the Kenney administration will closely monitor virus-related hospital admissions to detect another epidemic wave.

Hospitalizations and deaths are declining, and Philadelphia averaged 241 daily infections with a 3.2% positive test rate last week, down significantly from the previous week’s 404 cases and 5.1%.

“Our COVID case rates are falling rapidly, and I do see hope that this epidemic is fading, but it’s still extremely important that those who are not vaccinated yet get vaccinated now to keep it that way,” Farley said.

Rite Aid’s 77 stores and all government-run clinics in Philadelphia are now offering walk-up shots, he added.

Farley said children between the ages of 12 and 15 could begin getting inoculated as early as Wednesday after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for that group.

Parents should bring a form of documentation that includes their child’s birth date when they come in for a vaccine. They can go to any site offering the Pfizer shot, including the federally-backed centers at Esperanza and the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Both of those mass sites, supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, are distributing second and first doses. At the Convention Center, residents have a choice of the Pfizer or one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to Farley.

Nearly 47% of Philadelphians over the age of 16 are at least partially vaccinated, according to the city’s health department.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, which includes city residents inoculated elsewhere, indicates that 40% of Philadelphia adults and 61% of seniors are fully vaccinated.

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