Philadelphia Becomes the First Major U.S. City to Reinstate Its Indoor Mask Mandate


The pandemic leaves another footprint in Philadelphia, PA. Graphic by K. Peechu.

On Monday, April 11th, Philadelphia’s Public Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole announced that the city was reinstating its indoor mask mandate as of Monday, April 18th.

It is the first major U.S. metropolitan area to announce the return of masking requirements after numerous cities and counties took down the restrictions since cases began falling in January 2022. Dr. Bettigole has stated that the April 11 case count was 50% higher than it was 10 days ago, however, she also noted that COVID-caused hospitalization numbers were still very low.

“Starting today, I’m asking all businesses and institutions in Philadelphia to dig up those old masks-required signs and start hanging them in your windows,” said Bettigole in a news conference, meaning that Philadelphia will move to its second level of COVID-19 restrictions. 

Just a week ago, city health officials recommended people wear masks in indoor public spaces, even though the city was at the Level 1: All Clear restriction level. In order to stay at a Level 1, the city must meet at least two of the following requirements: less than 100 new cases daily average, hospitalizations must be below 50, and cases cannot increase by 50 or more percent in the past 10 days. 

“I suspect that this wave will be smaller than the one we saw in January,” Bettigole said. “But if we wait to find out and to put our masks back on, we’ll have lost our chance to stop the wave.”

Even though cases have remained at a national daily average of around 34,000, the lowest since mid-July of 2021, cases have shown upward trends in more than half the states. According to public health officials, these rises and falls in case numbers are expected during the pandemic.

However, responses to the mask mandate announcement have been extremely mixed. While some are relieved that public health is being prioritized and there are steps being taken, many expressed defeat because of the action, stating that the entire process has been long and draining.

Disappointment is not the only emotion Philadelphia residents showed towards the measure. Several businesses and individuals sought to overturn the mandate in anger, filing suit in Commonwealth Court on Saturday, April 16th. 

Attorney Thomas W. King III, who successfully challenged the statewide mask mandate in schools last year alongside others, argued that the city’s emergency implementation countered some of the recommendations made by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stating that it “imposed a renegade standard unfound anywhere else in the world.” The suit also lambasts city health officials for having “usurped the power and authority” of state lawmakers such as the state department of health and the state advisory health board.

Although, the communications director of the Philadelphia mayor’s office Kevin Lessard cited the court’s denial of an emergency act by a different plaintiff, stating, “The courts once again confirmed that city has both the legal authority and requisite flexibility to enact the precautionary measures necessary to control the spread of COVID-19.”

Still, despite the actions taken by some Philadelphia residents, many can agree with Dr. Cheryl Bettigole reinforcing vigilance in these times, who affirms, “If we fail to act now, knowing that every previous wave of infections has been followed by a wave of hospitalizations, and then a wave of deaths, it will be too late for many of our residents.”