This abruptly reverses course only days after residents were forced to wear masks again due to an increase in infection rates.
According to Philadelphia's health department, the Board of Health voted to repeal the mandate on Thursday. The statement cited "decreasing hospitalsizations" and "a leveling of cases."
Monday was the effective date of the mandate. Philadelphia had already ended its indoor mask mandate in March.
Although the health department didn't release any data to support its reverse on masking, it said that more information would be available Friday. At a public meeting on Thursday night, Dr. Cheryl Bettigole (acting health commissioner) stated that hospitalizations had dropped 25% in just a few days.
According to the transcript, she stated that "We are in a position that we had not expected to be in this soon" but it was good news. "So I'm very happy... to say that it seems that Philadelphia no longer needs to mandate masks and that we can move to a strong recommendation."
Philadelphia was the first major U.S. metro to reinstate the indoor mask mandate. However, it faced strong backlash and a legal battle to have the mandate removed. Despite being required by city rules, few masks were worn to the Philadelphia 76ers' playoff game on Monday.
Officials from the city said that Friday's mandate would be lifted.
Bettigole stated that it was necessary to prevent a new wave being driven by an omicron-subvariant when the city announced April 11, 2011 that mandatory masking would be returning. She stated that Philadelphia had passed the threshold at which city guidelines require people to wear masks indoors because of the rising number of cases.
Bettigole stated that if we don't act quickly, knowing that each previous wave of infection was followed by a wave hospitalizations and then a wave death, it would be too late for many residents.
The number of cases and hospitalizations rose at least through Monday. There were 82 patients admitted to the hospital with COVID-19, up almost 80% from one week earlier. Confirmed cases increased 58% to 224 per hour over the same period. These numbers are still only a fraction of the number seen in the city during the wintertime micron surge.
Bettigole informed the Board of Health Thursday night that hospitalizations have since fallen to 65.
Restaurant industry had resisted the city's mask mandate and claimed that workers would be the ones to bear the brunt customer anger.
Many residents and businesses filed suit in Pennsylvania to repeal the mandate. After meeting in private, board members discussed the lawsuit, the Board of Health voted to repeal the mandate.
"We were very happy to see Philadelphia make a correct decision to repeal the mask mandate," stated Thomas W King III, the plaintiffs' attorney, who was part of last year's successful legal challenge against the state-wide mask mandate in schools.
The issue was brought up shortly before the news broke about the expiration of the mandate during Thursday night’s debate between the three top Democratic candidates for the nomination for Pennsylvania's open U.S. Senate Seat. Two of them, Lt. Governor. John Fetterman of Philadelphia and Malcolm Kenyatta, a state representative, voted against the mandate.
Fetterman said that COVID must be overcome and that he believes it is possible to live with the virus. He also stated that he doesn't believe it is appropriate to go backwards by imposing closures or a mask mandate.
Conor Lamb, a suburban Pittsburgh U.S. Rep., said he didn't like wearing masks but believed Philadelphia officials were trying to do the best for everyone.
In February and March, most states and cities abandoned their masking requirements. These changes were made by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They placed less emphasis on hospital capacity and put more focus on case numbers.
The Justice Department said that it is appealing an order of a judge that revoked the federal mask mandate for planes, trains, and in travel hubs. The CDC requested that the Justice Department appeal the Florida federal judge's decision earlier in the week.