Philadelphia became the first major U.S. city to reinstate its indoor mask mandate after reporting a sharp increase in coronavirus infections.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting a seven-day average of more than 243,000 cases in the U.S. and a daily average of more than 34,000. That’s about a 16% increase from around the same time last month.
Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said confirmed coronavirus cases in Philadelphia increased by more than 50% in a 10-day span, the threshold at which the city’s guidelines call for people to wear masks indoors.
“We want to protect our most vulnerable residents. Wearing a mask around others is an easy way to do that. The sooner that we can stop this wave, the sooner we can get back to Level 1,” the health department tweeted.
Several businesses and residents, however, have filed suit in state court seeking to overturn the mandate.
The lawsuit said Philadelphia lacks the authority to impose such a mandate.
Attorney Thomas W. King III, who was among those involved in last year’s successful challenge to the statewide mask mandate in schools, said the city’s emergency order went against recommendations of the CDC and “imposed a renegade standard unfound anywhere else in the world.”
It’s true that the CDC has not recommended an indoor mask mandate in Philadelphia. In fact, Philadelphia County is still listed in the low category for COVID-19 transmission levels. But local health leaders say they just don’t want to take any chances.
“We don’t know if the BA-2 variant in Philadelphia will have the kind of impact on hospitalizations and deaths that we saw with the original omicron variant this winter,” Bettigole said. “I suspect that this wave will be smaller than the one we saw in January, but if we wait to find out … we’ll have lost the chance to stop the wave.”
Most states and cities dropped their masking requirements in February and early March following new guidelines from the CDC that put less focus on case counts and more on hospital capacity; at the time, the CDC said most Americans could safely take off their masks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.