PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia health officials announced Wednesday the city has moved to a “level one: all clear” COVID response level. This means masks are no longer required for most indoor public spaces. Masks are still required in schools, healthcare institutions, congregation settings, and on public transportation.
“We no longer need to require these restrictions, people can go about their lives, feel a little bit more normal,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner dr. Cheryl Bettigole said.
“Level one: all clear” means the average new cases per day is less than 100, hospitalizations are under 50, the percent positivity is under 2%, and cases have not risen by more than 50% in the previous 10 days. Recently in Philadelphia, the number of new cases and hospitalizations in the city have fallen to levels that indicate the virus is no longer a widespread public threat.
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With cases and hospitalizations declining, the city restrictions are coming down, aligning it with surrounding communities that have been less restrictive.
“Philadelphia is unique in that we are the poorest big city in the country, making us more vulnerable to COVID-19 than many places in the country,” Bettigole said.
In the two years since the first COVID case was confirmed in the city, there have been 4,776 deaths and 304,808 positive tests but probably many more infections that weren’t reported.
“We are capable of more than we could ever imagine,” Temple Health Dr. Tony Reed said.
Reed is with Temple Health, which is treated among the highest number of COVID patients in the city. He’s relieved the all-clear is finally being given.
“It’s fantastic,” Reed said. “I think we’re in a good place and it’s a strong step forward in alignment with the rest of the country so I look forward to the next phase of this.”
Doctors are quick to point out that COVID has not disappeared. We just have better tools to control it, but many are still at risk and new strains could emerge.
City buildings will require masks until March 7. Beginning on that date, masks will be optional for visitors and fully vaccinated staff. Unvaccinated staff are still required to wear two masks while indoors and around others.
“So according to our COVID response levels, I now declare that Philadelphia is moving into the all-clear level, effective immediately,” Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, the health commissioner of Philadelphia, said. “This means we will no longer be enforcing the indoor mask mandate in most settings. You’ll still need to wear masks in schools, all schools, including public, private, archdiocese, and charter and early child care.”
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Bettigole says if trends continue to move in the right direction, the school mask mandate could end on March 9, but a one-week mask requirement will be in place after spring break to avoid a post-break surge in cases.
Businesses and other institutions are allowed to be more strict than the City’s COVID Response Levels, so some businesses may still require proof of vaccination or that everyone wears a mask.
However, health officials warn the pandemic is not over and if cases start to rise some mandates will need to be enforced again.
“If a new COVID variant were to come to Philadelphia or cases started to rise again, we may need to move to the Mask Precautions Level or higher and start enforcing the public mandates again,” health officials said in a release Wednesday.
The health department uses a formula of weekly case rates, hospitalizations, and percent positivity to determine the response level.
But the city is all clear of mandates and that means Sixers fans Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center can cheer mask free and give James Harden and a big warm Philly welcome
Meanwhile, there’s movement in Delaware as well. Delaware just dropped its school mask requirement. Masks are no longer required for k-12 schools, on school buses, or in child care facilities. That announcement is consistent with the new mask guidance issued last week by the CDC.
According to a source familiar with the details, the White House is expected to announce a new COVID plan Thursday based on the progress the country has made over the past 13 months.
The announcement is expected to be a roadmap of sorts for how the country will sustain and build on that progress.
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CBS3’s Stephanie Stahl and Jan Carabeo contributed to this story.