Philadelphia lifts vaccine mandate for indoor dining, mask mandate remains

The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia city officials have lifted its vaccine mandate for indoor dining and other establishments that serve food and drinks, but an indoor mask mandate remains in place.

Philadelphia Public Health officials announced that the vaccine mandate was lifted immediately Wednesday. Officials also announced a new four-tier restriction system based on metrics such as case counts, positivity rates and hospitalizations.

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Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said the average daily case count had dropped to 189 cases per day from more than 500 last week. The drop, which she said has been steeper in Philadelphia than elsewhere in the state or the country, helped the city come to the decision to lift the vaccine mandate for restaurants and other businesses announced in mid-December and that just fully went into effect this month.

"Our goal has always been to the least restrictive as possible while ensuring safety," she said.

On the new city scale — which tops out with extreme caution, and then steps down to caution, mask precautions and all clear — the current status of restrictions is mask precautions, Bettigole said. The highest level of restrictions includes the vaccine mandate and the next lower level includes either proof of vaccine or a negative test for restaurants and other establishments.

The all clear level would lift the city-specific mask mandates, but federal mask mandates in places like healthcare facilities and on public transportation would remain in place. Mask mandates in schools and at private businesses would also be separate from the city's restrictions.

Bettigole said once the city reaches a lower than 2% positive-testing rate and other metrics, the all clear could be issued. She said that could happen within a few weeks. The city's restriction status will be updated on Mondays, unless something dramatic happens, Bettigole said.

"We can't get back to normal if you put the cart before the horse," said Mayor Jim Kenney. "You can throw all of the politics and other issues into it, but the fact is we need to be safe... Everybody is looking for a way around it, but we're going to get there when we get there."

FILE - In this photo provided by Pfizer, a technician inspects filled vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the company's facility in Puurs, Belgium in March 2021. COVID-19 vaccines are saving an untold number of lives but they can't stop the chaos when a hugely contagious new mutant bursts on the scene, leading people to wonder: Will we need boosters every few months? A new vaccine recipe? A new type of shot altogether? (Pfizer via AP)

City officials also announced plans to give residents who have held out on getting vaccinated a $100 incentive to finish their vaccines in the next six weeks with the help from some grants.

Bettigole said the vaccine mandate helped spur "a very large" increase in pediatric vaccinations, pushing the city way ahead of the national average for first doses among kids ages 5 to 11. More than 53% of Philadelphia residents in that age group have received a first dose, compared to closer to 30% nationally, she said.