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Philadelphia makes about-face on mask mandate

The US city of Philadelphia has reversed course on a city-wide mask mandate, with officials citing a drop in Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations despite reimposing the same rule less than a week ago. 

The city’s Board of Health announced the move on Friday, pointing to a “recent leveling-off of case counts and a decrease in Covid-19 hospitalizations,” though it noted that residents and visitors are still “strongly encouraged, but not required, to wear a mask in indoor public spaces.”

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“We have said throughout the pandemic that we will respond based on the data available. In implementing our mask mandate, we had promised to continue to monitor hospitalizations and to review the need for the mandate if hospitalizations did not rise following the rise in cases,” Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said.

READ MORE: White House to appeal Covid mask ruling

Commenting later on Friday, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said a recent federal court ruling against a White House mask mandate on public transportation influenced the decision, as did a move by the city’s public transit provider, SEPTA, to make masking optional on its trains, buses, and trolleys.

“The infection rate is going down, hospitalizations are going down, and frankly the ruling in Florida confused a lot of stuff,” Kenney said, referring to the federal appeals court decision, adding that SEPTA had also “confused a lot of stuff.”

While Philadelphia did away with the previous indoor mask mandate in early March, the rule was revived on Monday after the city raised its “Covid-19 response level.” As of Friday, however, officials said the tiered pandemic response system had been abolished entirely “based on an assessment of hospitalization data and Philadelphia’s overall risk level.”

Face coverings will still be required in certain indoor spaces, including hospitals, nursing homes, shelters, and other “congregate settings,” the city said.

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