PHILADELPHIA - Philadelphia on Wednesday announced a slate of new coronavirus restrictions amid the spread of the delta variant, including new mask mandates in some indoor and outdoor settings.
During a Wednesday morning press conference, Acting Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said the new mask mandate will go into effect at midnight Thursday.
"We had hoped that our high vaccine rate - more than 77% of adults had at least one shot and 63% of adults are now fully vaccinated - and our recommendation for folks to wear masks, would slow this virus down," Bettigole said. "Unfortunately that hasn't happened."
City officials also announced Wednesday that a vaccine requirement would soon be going into effect for city employees.
Where are you required to wear a mask in Philadelphia?
Under the new mask mandate, masks will be required to be worn indoors at businesses where proof of vaccination is not required. The city will also implement a mask mandate on unseated outdoor events with 1,000 or more people.
Philadelphia businesses and institutions that require vaccination for all employees and patrons are exempted from having a mask requirement.
In businesses that do not require everyone who enters to be vaccinated, everyone will still need to wear a mask.
The city also says indoor dining may continue, and masks will not need to be worn if proof of vaccination is required for staff and patrons. If restaurants do not require proof of vaccination, masks are required by all patrons and staff while not seated and eating or drinking.
Amid a stretch of intense heat, Philadelphia is also making masks mandatory at indoor cooling centers due to the high number of elderly people who are the most vulnerable to the virus.
Who will be required to be vaccinated in Philadelphia?
Despite the urging of Philadelphia health officials and medical experts alike, no one is required to get the coronavirus vaccine. There are, however, some rules the city has recently announced to ramp up vaccination rates among vulnerable populations.
Acting Philadelphia Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole recently announced that healthcare workers and college students without a medical or religious exemption must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 15. Healthcare workers who do not get vaccinated will be required to have a PCR or antigen test twice a week.
Bettigole outline three options universities can offer students who do not provide proof of vaccination by the October deadline. Unvaccinated students can participate in in-person learning with a weekly negative PCR test once a week or twice weekly antigen tests.
Bettigole said colleges and universities with a 90% vaccination rate can offer unvaccinated students the option to double mask and maintain social distance while indoors. A virtual learning option remains available for unvaccinated students with exemptions.
"These regulations are aimed at protecting the most vulnerable through the vaccination of healthcare workers, and they're aimed at preventing the further spread of COVID-19 through the vaccination of college and university students," Bettigole said.
Come Sept. 1, the city will be requiring all of its employees to provide proof of vaccination. Current city employees who are not fully vaccinated by that date will be required to wear two masks while working on site. Philadelphia will make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for new hires as a condition of their employment.
Non-uniform City employees are currently offered four hours of compensatory time once they provide proof of being vaccinated in order to make getting vaccinated as easy as possible, according to the city's website.
How do I get a replacement vaccination card?
If you lost or damaged your vaccination card, please call 215-685-4588 or email email@example.com. A staff member will verify your address and figure out the best way to get you a replacement.
Philadelphia seeing ‘subtantial’ community spread of COVID-19, CDC says
According to data from the CDC’s COVID-19 tracker, the city of Philadelphia has recently seen ‘substantial’ community spread of the virus. Over the last several weeks, restaurants and businesses in the city have adopted a proof of vaccination policy to sit indoors.
Philadelphia City Council on Tuesday ordered all councilmembers and staffers to be fully vaccinated before returning to session. FOX 29's Steve Keeley says all 17 members of the city council are fully vaccinated, but more than 200 staffers will need to follow.
The latest figures provided by the city shows over 950,000 Philadelphians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and more than 780k are fully vaccinated. In June, Philadelphia health officials reported that over 70% of adult residents got at least one jab.
Health officials believe the uptick in new infections is spawned by the more contagious delta variant, which is now the predominant strain of COVID-19 across the country. While the wave of new infections in Philadelphia has climbed, deaths and hospitalizations in the city remain low, hinting that the vaccines are working to prevent serious illness.
"We're seeing nearly 200 new cases of COVID every day now, and for the first time since early June, more than 100 people are in the hospital in Philly with COVID," Bettigole said. "This is not the summer any of us imagined."
- Study suggests Moderna vaccine may be more effective than Pfizer against delta variant
- COVID-19 Delta variant symptoms: What we know and what to look for
- Delta plus variant: What it is and how it differs from other coronavirus strains
- COVID-19 Delta variant and kids: Protecting children who aren’t old enough to get vaccinated
Health officials said that despite the uptick in new cases, Philadelphia hospitals are not near capacity. Bettigole highlighted other cities and states where an overflow of COVID patients has forced other emergencies to be diverted to faraway health care facilities.
"I need to stress that these are just the next steps, we will be watching the numbers closely, we may need to adjust safety measures if they continue to rise," Bettigole said.
Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf said about 25,000 employees of state prisons, health care facilities and congregate living spaces have a month to get vaccinated.
The state Health Department said this week that 63.8% of adult state residents are fully vaccinated, although there were nearly 4,100 positive cases over a recent three-day stretch. So far, more than 1.2 million Pennsylvanians have been infected with the coronavirus and nearly 28,000 have died from it.