A shopper wearing a protective mask as a precaution against coronavirus spread picks fruit at Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia.
Matt Rourke | AP
Philadelphia health officials are keeping the city’s newly reintroduced indoor mask mandate in place despite a federal judge’s ruling in Florida that slashed a federal requirement to wear face masks on public transportation.
The City of Brotherly Love on Monday became the first major city in the United States to reinstate its Covid-19 mask mandate for indoor activities, as the highly contagious omicron BA.2 sub-variant drives new Covid cases higher across the United States
Many cities and states lifted mask mandates in February and March as cases plummeted from a pandemic peak of about 808,000 average new cases a day in mid-January to about 35,000 new cases a day this week. But infections across the United States have begun to rise in recent weeks, and cities like Philadelphia are experiencing a new rise in cases.
The Transportation Security Administration said Monday it would stop enforcing mask rules a few hours after U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle of Tampa, Florida, ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its limits when it imposed face coverage on airplanes. trains, buses and other forms of public transport.
Masked and dewormed travelers queue at a security checkpoint after the Biden administration announced it would no longer enforce a U.S. coronavirus (COVID-19) mask mandate on public transportation, following a federal judge’s ruling that the 14-month-old directive was illegal, at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, USA, April 19, 2022.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
While the ruling may repeal Philadelphia’s mask rules for public transportation, the mandate is still in place for other indoor venues, including restaurants, gyms and businesses.
“We are evaluating the implications of this latest decision and will provide further clarification on masking in transit in Philadelphia when it is available. This decision does not affect the city’s mask mandate for certain indoor locations.” James Garrow, communications director at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, said in an email to CNBC.
Philadelphia reintroduced its mask mandate after cases rose 50% from April 1 to April 11, health officials said. Admissions were stable on April 11, but have since risen rapidly. The number of people hospitalized with Covid nearly doubled last week, from 46 people on April 11 to 82 people on Monday – what health officials called a “worrying sign that this wave could be more dangerous than we had hoped.”
“We’ve seen this wave of pandemics sweep across Europe, and it looks like it’s coming to Philadelphia now,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole in a statement Monday. “We must do what we can to ensure that our most vulnerable neighbors and loved ones remain safe. Each and every one of us has the ability to save lives today by putting on our masks and helping to stop the rise. in cases. “
The city had been at level 1, or “completely ready”, after the initial omicron rise subsided, which meant mandatory measures such as indoor mask mandates had been lifted. But the recent rise in cases driven by BA.2 moved the city to level 2, or “caution”, which requires masks.
The mask mandate will be lifted when Philadelphia meets the thresholds for the “all clear” level again, according to the city.
With other cities and states, there has been hesitation in reintroducing the politically unpopular demands.
For Chicago, the Illinois Department of Public Health said the return of a mask mandate is not expected in the near future, though the city and state are seeing an increase in cases.
“It’s not something we’re talking about at the moment,” said Amaal Tokars, acting director of the department, according to NBC Chicago. “However, I will never say that nothing has happened, but we will do what we think is wisest and best based on the current circumstances that we see.”
In Massachusetts, the public health commissioner said there are currently no plans to reintroduce a state-wide mask mandate. Hawaii’s governor also said last week that he is not considering reintroducing a mask requirement for indoor public spaces. The state was the last to lift its mask mandate in late March.
Similarly, public health officials from the state of Washington said the return of the mask mandate is not “in our best interest.”
“I think what’s pretty clear is that the public is pretty tired of mandates, and so I think (we) really need to use that power wisely,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Mike Lindquist in an interview on TVW, Washington’s public affairs network.
– CNBC’s Spencer Kimball contributed to this report.
Correction: The Illinois Department of Public Health said the return of a mask mandate is not expected in the near future. An earlier version mischaracterized the department.