PHILADELPHIA — Just four days after reinstating the indoor mask mandate, the city of Philadelphia has dropped it. The city also is abandoning its tiered coronavirus response system launched in February.
The city's Health Department Thursday voted to rescind the mask mandate, which was reinstated Monday.
Masks are no longer required in indoor public spaces.
Officials cited stabilizing case counts and low hospitalizations for ending the short-lived mandate.
According to the health department, cases have leveled off and were averaging 242 per day as of April 21. This comes after cases rose steeply between the end of March and mid-April, reaching a peak of 377 cases on April 14, officials said.
Hospitalizations in Philadelphia peaked on April 17 at 82 and have fallen over the course of the week, reaching 65 on April 21, according to the health department.
And with that data in mind, the four-tiered coronavirus response system is being abandoned.
Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said "a strong recommendation is adequate rather than a mandate at this stage of the pandemic."
"We have said throughout the pandemic that we will respond based on the data available. In implementing our mask mandate, we had promised to continue to monitor hospitalizations and to review the need for the mandate if hospitalizations did not rise following the rise in cases," she said. "We are grateful to see that Philadelphians once again stepped up, responding to this pandemic with solidarity and care for each other. And that response and the data demonstrating its effectiveness makes it possible for us to announce today that we are rolling back Philadelphia’s mask mandate in favor of a strong recommendation for indoor masking."
Based on the city's current coronavirus metrics, the city would have been under the "caution" tier of the system, the level three tier. That tier required proof of full vaccination or a negative test results from a lab or administered onsite to eat indoors, as well as indoor masking.
The decision to end the mandate came not long after Mayor Jim Kenney stood by the mandate when talking with the Washington Post.
"Our health professionals recommended that we do a mandate again because their data have shown that mandates get people to wear them more than just highly recommended," he told the outlet. "Our belief is that wearing masks again will tamp down the case counts and hospitalizations…and allow us…to get back to more normalcy."
In a statement released Friday, Kenney said he has faith in the city's health officials to make the best choice to keep Philadelphians safe.
"Philadelphia’s Health Department continues to monitor the local status of the pandemic, and I am grateful for their continued guidance to the public so that we can all stay safe and keep our city open," he said. "I thank Dr. Bettigole, the Health Department, and their healthcare partners—and every resident doing their part to fight the pandemic—for keeping our city safe and open."
When asked about the city and health department's credibility, Bettigole said she does not think the quick rescinding of the mandate weakens credibility.
She said Philadelphians' actions, such as masking and staying home when feeling ill, led to the quick removal of the mandate.
The announcement of the mandate back on April 11, she said, prompted residents to begin taking precautions.
While the city is no longer mandating masks or vaccines, businesses can choose to require masks or proof of vaccination and officials strongly recommend masks in indoor public spaces.
Bettigole last week said reinstating the mask mandate would help prevent a new wave of coronavirus.
"I suspect that this wave will be smaller than the one we saw in January," she said. "But if we wait to put our masks back on, we'll have lost our chance to stop the wave."
The decision led to a group of residents and businesses to challenge the mandate in court and drew criticisms from local leaders and the national media.