Feb 16, 2022 - COVID

Philly ends vaccine mandate for indoor dining

Illustration of a city inside of an opened bird cage

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Philadelphia dropped its vaccine mandate for indoor dining Wednesday, but the city is keeping face mask requirements in place as part of a new system for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Driving the news: Philly is rolling out a four-tiered system in the wake of virus case counts plummeting and hospitalizations dropping from peaks during the recent Omicron surge.

  • The new system is based on a variety of metrics, including average case counts, hospitalizations and positive rates.

How it works: The city's response is now broken down into the following levels:

  • Level 4 (Extreme Caution): Proof of vaccination will be required for places that serve food and drinks. Face masks must be worn in indoor public places.
  • Level 3 (Caution): Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours for dining establishments. Face masks in indoor public places.
  • Level 2 (Mask Precautions): Face masks required in indoor public places.
  • Level 1 (All Clear): No vaccine or mask requirements, with exceptions that include schools, health care institutions and public transportation.

Where we're at now: Level 2. Face masks are mandated for indoor public places because case rates and hospitalizations remain "relatively high," Philadelphia Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said Wednesday.

  • Of note: The city's school mandates, including face masks and quarantining, remain in place.

What they're saying: The new system will "provide transparency into what city residents and business owners can expect going forward," Bettigole said.

  • She said the city is able to relax COVID restrictions because of its virus response, which has kept case rates lower than in the surrounding region and U.S.
  • Bettigole admitted the vaccine mandate for dining establishments and entertainment venues was "much more intrusive" and "hard on" them during the last month.

What to watch: The city could enter the All Clear level in "just a few weeks," Bettigole predicted.

  • Yes, but: Relaxing all virus mandates depends on whether a new variant emerges, as well as case counts and other metrics.
  • "The key to all of this is being disciplined, following the rules, getting vaccinated and wearing your damn mask," Mayor Jim Kenney said. "This is science, but it's not rocket science."

Editor's note: This story has been clarified to specify that Level 3 and Level 4 require face masks in indoor public places.

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