PHILADELPHIA - After a brief respite from indoor mask-wearing in Philadelphia, health officials on Thursday recommended that all people resume wearing masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole cited a "small, but disturbing" increase in hospitalizations and doubling cases due to the Delta variant and COVID-19 infections in children who are not vaccine eligible.
"It's time for all of us to do what we need to do to protect our city's kids," Dr. Bettigole said. "That means getting fully vaccinated if you haven't yet, and it means all of us going back to wearing masks in public."
Along with indoor masking, the health department now suggests avoiding crowded spaces and moving gatherings outside when possible. Health officials also advocate wearing a mask around people whose vaccination status is unknown.
Joining Good Day Philadelphia on Friday, Bettigole said the new recommendations were made to prevent a wave of Delta variant cases that have contributed to spikes in other cities and states.
"The increase in cases in Philadelphia is small numbers, but it's the rate of increase that we're really concerned about," Bettigole said. "We've had almost a doubling of cases in a single week."
The updated guidance comes as the COVID-19 Delta variant has propelled an uptick in cases across the county, according to health experts. Earlier this week, the national seven-day rolling average for daily new cases rose to over 37,000, up from less than 13,700 on July 6.
As state and local health officials grapple with the troubling Delta variant, there is also concern over the slowed vaccination rate. Recent CDC data shows nearly 80% of adults ages 65 and older have been fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus while 57.1% of people ages 12 and older have been fully vaccinated and 59.6% of adults 18 and older.
Along with the overall uptick in cases, Bettigole said the health department has seen a "small but real" increase in hospitalizations among children. The health department on Thursday said 55 people are currently hospitalized from COVID-19 in Philadelphia, but they did not say how many are children.
The shoddy vaccination rates have made some health officials, like Dr. Bettigole, reconsider indoor mask-wearing. Bettigole believes masking in stores and businesses is chiefly important because employees have no way of know who is and is not vaccinated.
Amid the new recommendations, Bettigole was quick to point out that Philadelphia was among the best cities at following mask guidance during the widespread mandates. As such, Philadelphia has also been receptive to the COVID-19 vaccines by surpassing the 70% threshold.
According to the health department, 61% of Philadelphia adults are fully vaccinated, and 73.9% of Philadelphia adults have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.