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With new coronavirus cases down but rising sharply in recent days, the city of Philadelphia announced Monday that it will reinstate the indoor mask-wearing mandate just over a month after lifting it, becoming the first major US city. USA to do it.

“This is our chance to get ahead of the pandemic,” Cheryl Bettigole, the city’s health commissioner, said at a news conference. She acknowledged that the average number of daily new cases, currently at 142, is still nowhere near what it was at the beginning of the year, when the Omicron variant was pushing the seven-day average to nearly 4,000.

But he said if the city doesn’t mandate masks now, “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.” Over the past week, the city reported that the number of residents who had died from Covid-19 exceeded 5,000.

The mandate will take effect next week. A spokesman for the city’s health department said it would end when the number of cases and rates drop below a certain threshold.

The decision comes as cases rise across the country, fueled by the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant, known as BA.2. While the national increase so far is relatively small (about 3 percent in the past two weeks), the growth in cases in Northeastern cities like New York and Washington, DC, has been significantly more pronounced. Some universities in the Northeast, including Columbia, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins, have reinstated indoor mask mandates in recent days.

Speaking at a virtual news conference Monday afternoon, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said he would follow the advice of his health team in making any decision on reinstating mask mandates regardless of their outcome. positive test on Sunday, increasing virus cases in the city and Philadelphia’s decision.

“I’m not special for being the mayor. What happens to me personally should not determine how I make policy,” said Mr. Adams. “It should be what happens to New York City.”

“I feel fine, no fever, no runny nose, no aches and pains,” the mayor said, adding that with his medical history of diabetes, “I probably would have had different results if I hadn’t been vaccinated and boosted.”

Under Philadelphia’s Covid response plan, mitigation measures are triggered when case numbers or case trajectories exceed certain thresholds. Since the beginning of March, when Omicron quickly backtracked, the city had been in Level 1, or “all clear,” meaning most mandatory measures had been lifted, including indoor mask mandates and face mask requirements. vaccination test in restaurants. Masks are no longer required in city schools, though people visiting hospitals or riding public transport still have to wear them.

The indoor mask mandate is automatically reinstated when the city moves up to Tier 2, in which the daily average of new cases and hospitalizations are still low, but “cases have increased by more than 50 percent in the 10 past days”. The health department spokesman said that in the past 10 days the average number of newsworthy cases had increased nearly 70 percent.

Philadelphia’s system “allows us to be clear, transparent and predictable in our response to local Covid-19 conditions,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement after the announcement was made. “I am optimistic that this step will help us control the rate of cases,” he added.

The city’s decision is at odds with the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basing its designation on hospital admissions among other benchmarks, the CDC considers Philadelphia to have a “low” community level and therefore does not recommend mandatory mask wearing.

When asked about the difference, Dr. Bettigole emphasized that “local conditions do matter” when making these decisions, citing inequalities in the impact of the virus. “We have all seen here in Philadelphia how much our history of red lines, history of disparities, has impacted, particularly our Black and Latino communities in the city,” he said. “So it makes sense to be more careful in Philly than, you know, maybe in an affluent suburb.”

jeffery c mays contributed report.

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