Dr Cheryl Bettigone, Philadelphia’s health commissioner, said they ‘always’ planned to lift the mandate ‘as soon as possible’
Philadelphia’s health officials today insisted they ‘always’ planned to lift the mask mandate ‘as soon as possible’, after u-turning on the rule in just four days.
The 1.5million-strong city in Pennsylvania made masks compulsory in schools, restaurants, hairdressers and public buildings on Monday.
But yesterday it switched to ‘strongly recommending’ the coverings, saying the strict rule was not necessary because of falling hospitalizations.
Defending the U-turn its health commissioner Dr Cheryl Bettigone said: We always intended to have this be as short as possible and I think the good news on cases and hospitalizations means that we’re ready to stop at this point.
‘With this steady decrease in hospitalizations with them levelling off, really we are not seeing that sustained rise that we were worried about seeing.’
She pointed to two days of falling hospitalizations to justify dropping the mandate, saying they were not seeing the rise expected. About 65 Covid patients are currently being admitted to the city’s hospitals every day, up 70 per cent on when the mandate was announced.
Confusion has erupted among Democrat-led cities over face masks after a Florida-based federal judge struck down the order, saying the CDC had ‘exceeded’ its authority by imposing it. The Department of Justice is appealing the ruling.
New York and Los Angeles are among the last to still require face masks on public transport, while San Francisco and Boston have both rowed back from the rules after initially keeping them in place.
Philadelphia is ending its indoor mask mandate, city health officials said Thursday night, just four days after implementing it amid a sharp increase in Covid infections. Pictured: A sign is posted urging travelers to wear a protective masks as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus at the Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Tuesday, April 19, 2022
Few masks were worn at the Philadelphia 76ers’ NBA basketball home playoff game at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday (pictured), despite being required under city rules
Philadelphia announced it would bring back face masks on April 11, after its Covid cases rose 50 per cent in a week but remained at very low levels.
The city was immediately blasted for the move, even by scientists who had previously supported mask mandates.
It brought back the mandate around a month after dropping its previous mask-wearing rules for indoor spaces.
Which cities have re-instated and dropped mask mandates?
A federal judge in Florida struck down the mask mandate for public transport on Monday, saying the CDC had ‘exceeded’ its authority.
But several cities in the country are still requiring the coverings to be worn. They are listed below.
Los Angeles: From today, the Californian city has re-instated face masks on its public transport. Health officials there say they are following CDC guidance.
New York: Masks are still required on public transport in the city despite the federal order striking down the ban. Some public buildings also still require the coverings.
Philadelphia: The city of 1.5-million dropped its mask mandate for indoor public spaces just four days after re-imposing it. Authorities said they were able to do this because of falling hospitalizations and ‘flat’ cases.
San Francisco: Masks were dropped on its public transport on Thursday, three days after the federal judge struck down the rule.
Boston: This city dropped its mask mandate on public transport on Tuesday, a day after the federal judge’s ruling. Health officials there are still urging residents to wear the masks.
In a press conference today, Dr Bettigone said: ‘We thought it was just wiggle in the data but you know it has been pretty consistent in terms of those hospitalization numbers.
‘We didn’t see hospitalizations rise in tandem with the rise in cases.
‘Hospitalizations peaked at 82 on Sunday, on Monday 77, Tuesday 74 [sic], yesterday 65, clearly not a rise in hospitalizations.
‘I think it just doesn’t justify keeping a mandate in place when we don’t need one.’
She added: ‘I have said from the beginning that we didn’t want to keep this mandate if it wasn’t necessary.’
Bettigone said Philadelphians had taken action as soon as the mandate was imposed, which had led to the drop.
Daily Covid cases in the city have risen by a third since Sunday, to about 242 new infections being reported every day on average.
Its daily deaths from the virus are less than five a day.
Announcing the end of the face mask mandate, mayor Jim Kenney said: ‘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.
‘As cases level off and hospitalizations fall, we still strongly encourage Philadelphians and visitors to our city to wear masks, but will not require their use.
‘Masks are still an incredibly effective way to protect ourselves and protect those around us—including people who are immunocompromised, and all the young children who are not yet eligible for vaccines.
‘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 the city announced April 11 that mandatory masking was coming back, Bettigole said it was necessary to forestall a potential new wave driven by an omicron subvariant.
She said Philadelphia had crossed the threshold of rising cases at which the city’s guidelines call for people to wear masks indoors.
‘If we fail to act now, knowing that every previous wave of infections has been followed by a wave of hospitalizations, and then a wave of deaths, it will be too late for many of our residents,’ Bettigole said at the time.
Cases and hospitalizations continued to rise at least through Monday.
Bettigole told the Board of Health on Thursday night that hospitalizations had since drifted down to 65.
Pictured: City residents wait in a line extending around the block to receive free at-home rapid COVID-19 test kits in Philadelphia, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021
Passengers exit a train at 30th Street Station as the indoor mask mandate is reinstated to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Philadelphia, April 18, 2022
The restaurant industry had pushed back against the reimposed mask mandate, saying workers would bear the brunt of customer anger over the new rules.
Several businesses and residents filed suit in state court in Pennsylvania seeking to overturn the renewed mandate. The Board of Health’s vote to rescind the mandate came after board members met in private to discuss the lawsuit.
‘We were very pleased to see Philadelphia make the correct decision to rescind the mask mandate,’ said the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Thomas W King III, who was among those involved in last year’s successful legal challenge to the statewide mask mandate in schools.
People took to Twitter to share their bewilderment over the quick reversal.
No one was following it to begin with. Literally no one,’ one person remarked on the social media platform. Another wrote: ‘Four days of data about a decrease in hospitalizations and cases, changed the mandate in the same week?’
One user joked: ‘How about mask mandate M/W/F, strong recommendation T/Th? Saturdays masks over eyes, ears and left shoulder. Sunday mouth, nose, lower abdomen. Granted we will need to begin production on the larger lower abdomen masks immediately!’
Another person said: ‘Wow that was fast glad we could all come together and decrease this while mostly no one followed that mandate this time.’
Other people, however, said they would continue to wear masks, and take other precautions against catching Covid-19. ‘I’m still voting by mail,’ one person said. ‘Very easy to catch something at the polls. Please be safe folks.’
Shortly before news broke that the mandate was ending, the issue came up during Thursday night’s debate between the three leading Democratic candidates seeking the party’s nomination for Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat.
Notably, two of them, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta of Philadelphia, came out against the mandate.
‘We have to move past COVID,’ said Fetterman, adding that ‘we have to live with this virus, and I don’t believe going backwards with a mask mandate or with closures is appropriate.’
U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb of suburban Pittsburgh said he hated wearing masks, but thought Philadelphia officials were ‘trying to do what’s best for everybody.’
Most states and cities dropped their masking requirements in February and early March following new guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that put less focus on case counts and more on hospital capacity and said most Americans could safely take off their masks.
The Justice Department, meanwhile, said it is appealing a judge’s order that voided the federal mask mandate on planes and trains and in travel hubs.
The CDC asked the Justice Department to appeal the decision handed down by a federal judge in Florida earlier this week.
On Monday, US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle struck down the mask mandate, saying that the CDC had overstepped its remit, and that its continued enforcement was illegal.
Individual airlines and airports can continue to enforce it if they see fit, although so-far all major US carriers have chosen to scrap the mask rule, with passengers filmed cheering with delight at the news.
But many others have expressed rage at the mandate being lifted online.
They’ve claimed the health of children too young to be vaccinated is at risk, and have even vowed to boycott flying. Others have called for airlines to indulge them with special mask-only flights where the coverings remain compulsory.
‘We urge focus on clear communication so that flight attendants and other frontline workers are not subject to more violence created by uncertainty and confusion,’ the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA), which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants across 17 airlines, said in a statement issued to Newsweek Monday.
‘The last thing we need for workers on the frontlines or passengers traveling today is confusion and chaos. Traveling can be stressful enough and safety comes first with respect for everyone utilizing collective modes of transportation.’
The statement followed a ruling by US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, that appeared to free public transportation operators to make their own decisions about mask requirements.
She said the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had failed to justify its ‘unlawful’ mask policy, stretched the meaning of ‘sanitation’ in the law to encompass face coverings, and did not follow proper rulemaking procedures that left it fatally flawed.
In her 59-page ruling, Mizelle said the only remedy was to vacate the rule entirely across the country because it would be impossible to end it for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, two individuals and the non-profit Health Freedom Defense Fund.
The CDC had issued the mandate in February 2021 and it was due to expire next month after it was extended multiple times at the request of Joe Biden.
Now operators can decide their own policy on mask-wearing, pending a potential appeal to the ruling by the US Department of Justice.
Two JetBlue flight attendants clap, cheer and say ‘we’re so happy!’ after learning the public transportation mask mandate has been lifted. After their celebration they tell passengers they can take off their face coverings and say: ‘Wave ’em in the air like you just don’t care’
Multiple people flying the friendly skies posted videos and photos Monday of people whipping off their face coverings and cheering after a White House official said that passengers on planes, trains and buses could finally shed their masks after more than two years.
One man wrote: ‘I’m on Delta flight to NYC now and the plane absolutely went bonkers when Captain said NO NEED TO WEAR A MASK ON THIS FLIGHT. We are taking our country back!!!’
Ben Dietderich added, as he heard the announcement: ‘A wonderful moment mid flight on @alaskaair today!’
Meanwhile, the US government said on Thursday it was extending a requirement that non-U.S. citizens crossing land or ferry terminals at the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders must be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The requirements were first adopted in November as part of reopening the United States to land crossings by foreign tourists after the borders had been closed to most visitors since March 2020. The vaccination requirements had been set to expire on Thursday unless they were extended.
International air travelers over the age of two – regardless of citizenship – must provide a negative test for the virus before arriving and non U.S. citizens must also show proof of vaccination. People traveling at land or ferry crossings do not need to provide a negative test.
There are some limited exceptions to the rules including for those who have recently recovered from COVID-19.
The Homeland Security Department (DHS) said the decision was made after consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC says vaccines are the most effective public health measure to protect people from severe COVID-19 related illness or death.
WHAT THE END OF THE MASK MANDATE ACTUALLY MEANS
Several air carriers welcomed the move to drop mask mandates on Monday.
The airlines have issued the following statements about their policies.
‘Face masks have been like boarding passes for nearly two years – you couldn’t fly without one. But, as of today, masks are optional in airports and onboard aircraft, effective immediately.
‘While we are glad this means many of us get to see your smiling faces, we understand some might have mixed feelings. Please remember to be kind to one another and that wearing a mask while traveling is still an option.’
‘Face masks will no longer be required for our customers and team members at U.S. airports and on domestic flights.
‘Please note face masks may still be required based on local ordinances, or when traveling to/from certain international locations based on country requirements.’
Delta Air Lines
‘Effective immediately, masks are optional for all airport employees, crew members and customers inside U.S. airports and onboard aircraft.’
‘We are relieved to see the U.S. mask mandate lift to facilitate global travel as COVID-19 has transitioned to an ordinary seasonal virus. Thank you for your support in complying with the federal mask mandate and keeping each other, and our customers, safe during the pandemic.’
‘Effective immediately, masks are no longer required at United on domestic flights, select international flights (dependent upon the arrival country’s mask requirements) or at U.S. airports.
‘While this means that our employees are no longer required to wear a mask – and no longer have to enforce a mask requirement for most of the flying public – they will be able to wear masks if they choose to do so, as the CDC continues to strongly recommend wearing a mask on public transit.’
‘Mask wearing will now be optional on JetBlue. While no longer required, customers and crew members are welcome to continue wearing masks in our terminals and on board our aircraft.’
‘Masks are now optional on domestic flights, however, certain airports or countries may still require masks, so check the policy at your destination prior to departure and we’ll see you in the sky.’
‘Southwest employees and customers will be able to choose whether they would like to wear a mask, and we encourage individuals to make the best decision to support their personal wellbeing.’
TSA no longer requires face masks on public transportation and in transportation hubs.
Several major airports – including Denver, Seattle-Tacoma, Raleigh-Durham, Miami, Portland and all three DC area airports – have confirmed that they will no longer be enforcing mask requirements.
Most airports seem to be following the new ruling, however, San Francisco has said it ‘will continue to comply with the current TSA security directive on masks until we hear otherwise from TSA.’
Chicago’s O’Hare airport also said Tuesday it was keeping its mask mandates in place, citing an Illinois executive order requiring face coverings.
‘The safety and security of passengers and employees is the highest priority for the Chicago Department of Aviation. The CDA will continue to follow, observe and enforce all guidance by federal, state and local health and security authorities.’
It is unclear if NYC’s two airports are continuing to impose the rule, although travelers on social media have suggested that the rule is no longer in place.
Passengers should check the local requirements at their departure and arrival airports before traveling as requirements may vary.
The US has dropped mask mandates for all trains nationwide.
In wake of Monday’s ruling, national train line Amtrak relaxed mask restrictions effective immediately.
Amtrak said in a statement that ‘masks are welcome and remain an important preventive measure against COVID-19. Anyone needing or choosing to wear one is encouraged to do so.’
Uber has made face masks optional for drivers and riders across the US.
The ride hailing app said in a statement Tuesday morning: ‘As of April 19, 2022, riders and drivers are not required to wear masks when using Uber.
‘However, the CDC still recommends wearing a mask if you have certain personal risk factors and/or high transmission levels in your area.
‘Remember: many people still feel safer wearing a mask because of personal or family health situations, so please be respectful of their preferences. And if you ever feel uncomfortable, you can always cancel the trip.’
Uber is the first ride share company to rescind its mask mandate.
Lyft also rescinded its mask policy, saying: ‘We know that everyone has different comfort levels, and anyone who wants to continue wearing a mask is encouraged to do so. As always, drivers or riders can decline to accept or cancel any ride they don’t wish to take.’
Megabus announced Tuesday that masks will no longer be required for drivers or passengers across the US.
‘The CDC still recommends wearing a mask while on public transit and we encourage customers to make the choice that makes sense for them.
‘Please be mindful that masks may still be required while traveling through the bus stations we serve. We are extremely thankful for everything our employees and customers did to keep each other safe over the course of the pandemic.
Nationwide bus carrier Greyhound has also rescinded its mask mandate, saying: ‘Face masks on all our buses and facilities is optional.
Greyhound will require masks on cross border trips until Canada and Mexico remove their requirements. They will also be required if mandated by local municipalities.
Local transit authorities in several major cities, including DC, have already lifted restrictions.
However, some cities, such as NYC, have opted to keep their mask mandates in place, following CDC guidance and local ordinances.
Travelers should check with their local bus system before boarding without a face covering.