Philadelphia announced Monday it would be bringing back its indoor mask mandate not even two months after lifting it, becoming the first major U.S. city to reinstate the measure, The New York Times reports.
The decision arrives as the country — but particularly the Northeast — braces for a wave of infections driven by the Omicron subvariant known as BA.2, the Times writes. Philly's latest mandate will go into effect next week, and will end once case numbers and rates fall below a certain threshold.
Businesses can get around the mandate if vaccinations are required for all employees and patrons, reports NBC 10 Philadelphia.
"This is our chance to get ahead of the pandemic," said Philadelphia health commissioner Cheryl Bettigole, who conceded that the average number of daily cases is still low when compared to the beginning of the year. But if Philadelphia waits to once again require masks, "knowing that every previous wave of infections has been followed by a wave of hospitalizations, and then a wave of deaths, then it will be too late for many of our residents," she said.
Based on the city's COVID protocols, the indoor mask mandate is automatically reinstated when the city enters Level 2, or when case counts and hospitalizations remain low but "cases have increased by more than 50 percent in the previous 10 days." According to the health department, average new cases have risen almost 70 percent over the last 10 days, the Times reports.
Reupping the mask mandate also contradicts guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the CDC considers Philadelphia to have a low level of community transmission, meaning masking is not required, the Times notes.
But Bettigole said that "local conditions" weighed heavily in her decision, given the racial makeup of Philadelphia and the disproportionate effects COVID has on minority communities.