Mask mandate returns in Philly, is New Jersey Next?
As new COVID-19 infections rise sharply in Philadelphia, city health officials are reinstating their indoor mask mandate.
Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole says cases have risen 50% in the last 10 days, but remain a fraction of what they were during the peak of the omicron wave. Despite the higher numbers, the city is not seeing a spike in the number of hospitalizations.
City health inspectors will begin enforcing the mask mandate on April 18.
The numbers in Philly are similar to what New Jersey has been seeing over the same period of time. Could that trigger renewed mask mandates in the Garden State?
So far, Gov. Phil Murphy has insisted that New Jersey has "to learn how to live with COVID as we move from a pandemic to the endemic phase of this virus.”
In an interview with CNBC, Murphy said his hope was that "we'll be able to live with this in a normal way responsibly, like we do with the flu.”
Murphy has given no indication that he will impose new restrictions, but has said the state needs to be flexible, saying, "This virus dictates the terms, not us."
However, in the past, Murphy has used the specter of a return to mask mandates and other restrictions to try and boost vaccination rates.
As of Monday, New Jersey's rate of transmission (r/t) had risen to 1.23. An r/t of over 1.0 indicates there is active viral spread. For every 100 people infected, they are infecting another 123.
In the past, that would have been cause for concern, but even with a rising r/t, there has been no indication of a sharp rise in serious illness and hospitalizations remain around 330 statewide. In January more than 6,000 were hospitalized with, or for, COVID infections.
The CDC data tracker still lists community spread as 'low' for all 21 counties.
Mask mandates have been one of the most controversial restrictions throughout the pandemic. This was especially true in schools, where mandates triggered parental protests outside school buildings and at board of education meetings. Gov. Murphy lifted the school mask mandate for schools on March 7.
Last Month, Murphy also lifted the mask mandate in state buildings, including motor vehicle offices and agencies.
However, masking is still required in all healthcare facilities and on busses, trains, planes and inside transportation hubs as per federal mandate.
Many New Jersey colleges and universities have relaxed mask rules in community settings, but still require them inside classrooms and libraries.
Eric Scott is the senior political director and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at email@example.com
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