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Philly expected to require businesses check vaccination status or mandate masks indoors

The new restrictions are expected to be announced and take effect Wednesday.

Marcela Barrientos, 25, wears a mask while checking out of MOM's Organic Market in Philadelphia on June 11.
Marcela Barrientos, 25, wears a mask while checking out of MOM's Organic Market in Philadelphia on June 11.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

(Update: Philadelphia’s new mask mandate begins at midnight)

Philadelphia officials are expected to impose new coronavirus restrictions Wednesday, with a mandate that businesses either require masks for everyone or verify that all staff and customers are fully vaccinated, according to the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association.

That would mean even fully vaccinated people would need to wear masks in any business that doesn’t check vaccination status.

Details of the restrictions weren’t finalized, the association said when it warned its members of the city’s expected restrictions in an email newsletter Tuesday evening. It noted the restrictions would apply only to indoor spaces.

The expected changes come as the city faces a surge in new cases of the coronavirus. The city’s health department strongly recommended last month that all residents resume wearing masks in public indoor settings regardless of vaccination status. The announcement expected Wednesday would change that recommendation to a requirement (with the exception for businesses that check vaccination status).

Acting Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole warned residents last week about the rising case counts and spread of the delta variant but said the city would “keep the restrictions to the minimum that’s necessary.”

Bettigole and Mayor Jim Kenney are expected to announce the new restrictions at a virtual news conference scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday to provide an update on the city’s pandemic response. Kenney spokesperson Deana Gamble declined to comment ahead of that briefing.

The restrictions expected to take effect Wednesday will still allow for indoor dining, regardless of vaccination status. Restaurants and bars will need to require masks for staff and customers who are not seated and actively eating or drinking. But restaurants that verify all staff and patrons are vaccinated could forgo the mask requirement.

Some restaurants already require vaccination; at least 11 Philadelphia restaurants have already announced that they will require proof of vaccination to dine indoors.

» READ MORE: These are the Philadelphia restaurants that require proof of vaccination

The change in policy comes just two months after Philadelphia fully lifted its coronavirus restrictions, which had been more limiting than the rest of the state for much of the pandemic.

Nationwide, coronavirus case counts have doubled over the past two weeks, with the U.S. averaging more than 100,000 new confirmed cases a day for the first time since February.

The rate of new cases of the coronavirus in Philadelphia has been increasing since mid-July. Philadelphia has had 166 cases per 100,000 residents in the last 14 days — comparable to the rate in October. Bettigole said last week that she was especially concerned with the speed at which new cases are increasing; the rate of new infections doubled between July 12 and July 19, and doubled again between July 19 and Aug. 1.

The Kenney administration is also considering a vaccine mandate for city workers in response to the latest surge in cases. The largest union representing municipal workers expressed support for a mandate Tuesday, but not everyone is on board.

» READ MORE: Philly’s largest union for city workers says it won’t oppose a vaccine mandate

Mask and vaccine requirements have sparked controversy and confusion across the country amid the nationwide increase in cases. While health officials warn that vaccinated individuals are just as likely to spread the delta variant as unvaccinated people, those who get the vaccine are far less likely to get seriously sick or die.

More than 63% of Philadelphia adults are fully vaccinated, but vaccination rates are lagging in young people and in some zip codes.

Speaking Monday about the possibility of a vaccine mandate for city employees, Kenney expressed frustration about the issue and said the spread of misinformation has made it difficult to combat COVID-19.

“Everyone should be vaccinated,” Kenney said Monday. “I don’t know how else to say it.”