Philadelphia drops indoor dining vaccine mandate, sets benchmark to drop mask rules

Philadelphia has dropped its vaccine mandate in indoor dining establishments and unveiled a new, multi-tiered system they say will guide decisions on easing - or implementing - restrictions in the future. 

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole announced the news during Wednesday, amid a recent drop in new cases and positivity rates in the city.

Bettigole says the new system, made up of four tiers, will allow officials to use metrics to drive their decisions on COVID-19 restrictions. Those metrics and tiers will also determine when restrictions should go back into place, should numbers worsen. 

"I am happy to announce our new COVID Response Levels today," said Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole. "We know that local rules to fit the local conditions are the best way to protect the communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the pandemic. I am glad to say that because of the work Philadelphians have done to keep each other safe, we are safer today than we were two months ago when the vaccine mandate for indoor dining was announced."

Under the new system, health officials would turn their focus to four key metrics: COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, test positivity rates, and the rate of increase in cases.

The response tiers are labeled as follows: Extreme Caution, Caution, Mask Precautions Only, and All Clear. Bettigole says that current metrics, Philadelphia has just entered the ‘Mask Precautions Only’ level.

Bettigole says the measures that were in place in the city before Wednesday would have met the criteria for the Extreme Caution tier.

Below are the specific definitions the city has given each tier:

  • Extreme Caution: Proof of vaccination required for places that serve food or drink; masks required in indoor public places
  • Caution: Proof of vaccination or negative test within 24 hours for places that serve food or drink; masks required in indoor public places
  • Mask Precautions: No vaccine requirement for places that serve food or drink; masks required in indoor public places
  • All Clear: No vaccine requirement for places that serve food or drink; No mask requirement (except in schools, healthcare institutions, congregate settings, and on public transportation)

Reaching the Mask Precautions Only tier means the city has reached the benchmark allowing an immediate end of the vaccine mandate at establishments that serve food for onsite consumption. The vaccine mandate for indoor dining was dropped effective immediately, Bettigole announced Wednesday.

Philadelphia mandates: What you need to know about COVID-19 response levels, metrics

Philadelphia health officials on Wednesday announced new COVID-19 response levels that will now tie the city’s mask and vaccine mandates to specific metrics. Here's what you need to know.

Indoor masking requirements will remain in place until those metrics further improve, and the city reaches the All Clear tier. 

Bettigole said during the briefing that the city could reach the All Clear tier within the next few weeks if numbers continue to drop and variables, like a new variant, do not create a new surge of COVID-19 cases. According to the tiers, the city would need to get under 100 cases per day on average,  and under a 2% positivity rate in order to reach All Clear. 

In all, the city would need to hit three of the four metric benchmarks to reach All Clear. The other benchmarks include hospitalizations under 50, and cases not rising by more than 50% in the previous 10 days.

Bettigole said the average daily case count had dropped to 189 cases per day from more than 500 last week, while positivist rates have fallen below 3%. 

At the peak of the omicron surge, around Jan. 3, Philadelphia was reporting 38% positivity rates and approximately 2,600 daily cases.

Several states across the country have announced an end to universal mask mandates over the last several weeks, including nearby Delaware. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy set a deadline for masks-wearing in public schools

The indoor dining vaccine requirement had applied to establishments like indoor restaurant spaces, bars, movie theaters, sports arenas, bowling alleys, and catering halls. 

Bettigole also announced the creation of a vaccine incentive program. Starting this week, at Philadelphia Department of Public Health Community Clinics, Philadelphians who complete their primary COVID-19 vaccine series will receive $100. Because of safety concerns, the city will not be handing out cash, but distributing the funds through mobile apps or a physical gift card by mail. 

For more information on the vaccination incentive, click here.

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