Philly to lift most restrictions this week

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Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, is set to look very different this week.

After more than 14 months of pandemic restrictions, the city’s capacity limits and social distancing rules will expire Wednesday, more than a week earlier than initially planned.

Officials said the change, announced Friday, was prompted by the lowest coronavirus case rates since September.

“These are encouraging signs that vaccination is truly turning the tide in Philadelphia,” Acting City Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said in a statement Friday.

Philadelphia recorded 961 COVID-19 cases during the week of May 16, with a positive test rate of 2.6%. In comparison, at the city’s 2021 spring peak in mid-April, there were more than 4,000 weekly infections.

If the Washington Wizards push the Sixers to a fifth game in their first round playoff series, the Wells Fargo Center will be able to host its first sold-out, full-capacity crowd Wednesday. Monday’s night game ended after Metro went to print.

“Our full reopening sends a clear message that our city is back,” Valerie Camillo, the stadium’s president of business operations, said in a statement.

Fans will still have to wear face coverings, and the city’s mask mandate for indoor settings will remain in place, though it is tentatively set to be lifted June 11.

Bettigole has said the health department will be monitoring COVID-19 data to determine if residents can ditch the masks. Philadelphia’s outdoor mask wearing mandate was dropped May 21.

An 11 p.m. dining curfew will also be maintained past Wednesday. Health officials are concerned that not enough essential workers have been vaccinated.

“We know that later in the evening, people tend to have drunk more and begin to gather in larger groups, so keeping the 11 p.m. last call provides a little extra protection for restaurant and bar workers and gets them some extra time to finish getting vaccinated,” health department spokesman Jim Garrow said in a statement Monday.

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Meanwhile, at the state level, where pandemic regulations are decided for most of Pennsylvania, all businesses and events were permitted to return to 100% capacity on Monday.

“We have made great strides throughout the commonwealth to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement Sunday. “As we lift mitigation orders, it is important for eligible Pennsylvanians to get the COVID-19 vaccine.”

State leaders have followed along with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines saying that fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks in most public spaces.

However, officials have said that businesses, cities and schools can institute stricter mask regulations.

Wolf’s administration has said it will remove its masking order for unvaccinated residents June 28, or whenever 70% of Pennsylvania’s adult population is fully vaccinated, whichever happens sooner.

As of Saturday, 53.5% of state residents over the age of 18 had received two doses or one dose of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

In Philadelphia, about 655,000, or 47.5% of the city’s population over 10, are at least partially vaccinated, according to the health department.

CDC data, which includes those inoculated outside the city, shows that 42.7% of residents 12 and older and nearly 65% of seniors are fully vaccinated.

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