Philadelphia has become the first major U.S. city to reinstate its indoor mask mandate, following an increase in COVID-19 infections, in recent weeks.
Beginning April 18, masks will be required in all indoor public spaces, including schools, child care settings, businesses, restaurants and government buildings.
"I sincerely wish we didn't have to do this again. I wish this pandemic was over just as much as any of you, but I am very worried about our vulnerable neighbors and loved ones. My hope that our actions today will slow the spread of COVID and help us avoid seeing our ERs, once again, gets so crowded, that people can't get timely care when they need it," Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said during a press conference on Monday.
The city will implement a one-week "education period" to ensure that all residents are made aware of the change in protocols. For now, however, there is no vaccine or testing requirement for establishments that serve food or beverages.
Over the last week, new cases per capita have increased by more than 50%, and daily case rates have risen past 100, according to city data. However, overall, COVID-19 related hospitalizations remain low.
"We hope that by having folks masks up whenever they're in public indoor spaces, we can get ahead of the wave and keep it from reaching a peak like we saw in January with the omicron variant. If we could do that we can literally save the lives of vulnerable Philadelphians," Bettigole said.
Bettigole said that at this time, there is no reason to "panic or to avoid activities." She stressed that the city remains open, but wearing masks will allow those activities to continue, while keeping all residents safe.
"If we start to see a different pattern than that of previous waves of the virus, we'll review our metrics to see if there are opportunities to be less restrictive," Bettigole added.
Several colleges and universities have also moved to reinstate masking requirements, given the increasing number of students and staff testing positive on-campus.
On Sunday, Columbia University in New York City announced it would require masks again in classrooms — a policy that is expected to last through the end of the semester.
"Continued caution in certain situations remains extremely important, particularly in indoor social settings when the vaccination status of attendees is unknown or uncertain," Donna Lynne, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, said in a statement.
Between Apr. 4 and Apr. 10, 133 students have tested positive — the highest weekly total since mid-January, according to university data.
Last week, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., temporarily reinstated an indoor mask requirement for its main and medical campuses, after seeing a "significant increase" in COVID-19 cases on-campus.
"This increase is partly due to the impact of the BA.2 Omicron subvariant. BA.2 is now the dominant strain in the United States, including in DC and on our campuses," school officials wrote in a statement last week. "These circumstances present a challenge, but we have learned to adjust our mitigation measures to respond to changing conditions throughout the pandemic. Another adjustment is needed now to curb transmission on campus."
In recent weeks, a flurry of positive COVID-19 infections has disrupted life in Washington, D.C., as many top officials and politicians have tested positive for the virus.
American University, Johns Hopkins University, Rice University, have all also issued similar masking requirements.
However, school officials reported that there have been no known cases of serious illness.