It should be almost like old times soon at Citizens Bank Park and at the Shore; restaurants and stores are open to full capacity in New Jersey; and come September, the Philadelphia School District wants students back in classrooms.
On a splendidly summery Wednesday it was tempting to believe that the pandemic had all but surrendered its hold on the region and the nation — except that it hasn’t, at least not yet, officials cautioned.
Philadelphia said that it would keep its indoor mask requirements for now because too many residents remain unvaccinated, and public officials were pressing their campaigns to persuade people to get their shots, including an incentive package in the Garden State.
» READ MORE: Everything you need to know about Philly’s reopening
Gov. Phil Murphy announced that any New Jersey resident vaccinated by July 4 will be eligible for free annual passes — worth $50 — to state parks, and those who have received a first dose by the end of the month can enter a drawing to win dinner with Murphy and his wife, Tammy.
In addition, anyone over 21 who gets at least one shot during May is entitled to a free glass of wine at any of nine wineries that are part of the Garden State Wine Growers Association.
As of Wednesday, 43% of New Jersey residents, and 34% of Pennsylvania’s had been fully vaccinated, according to data from both states. Case numbers have been dropping dramatically.
Daily positive test rates have fallen by around 50% in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania statewide, and New Jersey, compared with those of two weeks ago, and the city’s positive test rate has been below 5% since May 2.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” said acting Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole, who on Wednesday held her first coronavirus briefing, “but we’ve seen clear improvement over the past few months as more and more Philadelphians receive their vaccines.”
She said vaccines have been “a big factor” in driving down the case numbers.
The city’s largest private employer, University of Pennsylvania Health System, said Wednesday that all employees and clinic staff will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 1.
Philadelphia will lift its outdoor mask mandate Friday, but masks will be required indoors at least until June 11, said Bettigole, appointed after Thomas Farley resigned as head of the department.
But Bettigole said masks will no longer be mandatory at outdoor gatherings of any kind — even when people aren’t eating or drinking. Still, she strongly recommended that people who are unvaccinated — including children who are too young for vaccination — continue to wear masks.
”You can go to a ballgame without a mask,” she said. For the first time since Sept. 29, 2019, the Phillies are scheduled to open Citizens Bank Park to full capacity when they host the New York Yankees on June 12. It might get loud in South Philly, and expect a good old-fashioned traffic jam.
That likely also will be quite a popular weekend at the Jersey Shore, and given the run of June-like warmth this week, the beaches might be in the thoughts of a lot of people on the mainland.
But good luck finding a rental. Availability is tight, and restaurant reservations are at a premium. After a summer of lockdowns and restrictions, Shore towns have high expectations for the 2021 season, which begins unofficially with Memorial Day weekend.
» READ MORE: A ‘normal’ summer at the Shore
New Jersey on Wednesday lifted some of its key coronavirus-related restrictions. Stores, restaurants, theaters, and other businesses now can operate at full capacity, providing social distancing protocols are maintained, and bar seating can also return.
Despite CDC guidance that says unvaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask in most settings, New Jersey will continue to require masks indoors for at least the next few weeks.
Earlier in the week, Murphy announced that New Jersey pupils would be returning to classrooms for the 2021-22 school year. “We know that there is no substitute for in-person education and know that a full opening of our schools is critical to the well-being of our students,” he said.
Similarly, that is the intent of the Philadelphia School District.
Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. and Mayor Jim Kenney announced Thursday they are planning for a full, in-person reopening of all district buildings. The district’s five unions, including the powerful Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said they were all for it.
Said Jerry Jordan, the PFT president, “We believe that it’s really important to have in-person instruction.”
Staff writers Kristen A. Graham, Marie McCullough, Amy S. Rosenberg, and Allison Steele contributed to this article.