The gist: Vaccines for kids under 5 are likely to be cleared soon — possibly as early as March. But for other recently approved age groups, such as elementary and high school students, the rates of vaccination are far less than what health officials would like to see. And as an even younger group nears approval, more logistical challenges are on the horizon. But in a step toward normalcy, as more people get vaccinated and the omicron surge continues to wane, mask mandates in New Jersey and Delaware are on their way out.

📥 Tell us: How do you feel about mask mandates ending? Send us a note, and we’ll share some responses in next week’s newsletter. Please keep it to 35 words.

— Nick Vadala (@njvadala, health@inquirer.com)

Vaccines for babies, toddlers to pose new challenges for the Philly area

We’re likely to soon see kids under 5 be cleared for the coronavirus vaccine, but rolling it out for babies and toddlers will pose some new logistical hurdles. Those challenges could appear as soon as March, when federal regulators are likely to approve Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine for children as young as 6 months. Here’s what we know about the plan to vaccinate younger kids, and other developments on vaccination for youngsters:

What you need to know

😷 Starting next month, staff and students at New Jersey schools won’t be required to wear masks, but some districts will keep the mandate.

❌ But in Philadelphia, we’re still likely “several months away” from dropping our current COVID-19 restrictions.

💊 Tower Health fired a Montgomery County surgeon for allegedly prescribing bogus COVID-19 drugs through an Italian restaurant.

💉 As vaccines allow people with healthy immune systems to relax amid the pandemic, the immune compromised must still playing it safe, leading to loneliness, frustration, and even anger.

🏫 A judge has ordered the Perkiomen Valley School District to keep masking in order to protect disabled students.

🫁 While long-term outcomes are uncertain, lung transplants are increasingly seen as a beneficial treatment for people who suffered severe cases of COVID-19.

Local coronavirus numbers

📈 Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are declining in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Track the latest data here.

Helpful resources

What you're saying

Last week, we asked what’s helped you get through the omicron surge. Here’s what you told us:

💉 “I think what has helped me and my family the most has been living life normally. Fully vaccinated. Boosted. Had Covid and recovered. We are going to movies, concerts, comedy shows.”

🎨 “I had recently taken up mosaics and probably completed at least 15 pieces. It helped me focus and relax while on lock down and now the surge.”

A dose of diversion

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and nothing sets off that annual celebration of love like a beautiful bouquet of flowers. From florists and farms to grocery stores and subscriptions services, we rounded up a few regional spots to get your floral fix.

🕹️ Are you obsessed with Wordle, too? Good. We’ve got a scientific analysis on how you can boost your odds at winning.

🤤 Philly’s not the only place where you can get a good hoagie — in fact, it turns out Delco is giving us a run for our money.

💕 Professor X himself — a.k.a. actor James McAvoy — is in love with a Philly girl, and the city is “like a second home” to him.

A good thing: Smith Playground honors a pandemic Philly hero

Smith Playground is marking Black History Month with an outdoor exhibit honoring some of Philly’s Black “Leaders and Legends.” Among them is Ala Stanford, a pediatric surgeon and founder and CEO of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, which has been providing testing and vaccinations for hard-hit areas.

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