“People just have to grow up.”
That was Mayor Jim Kenney’s message on Wednesday when he and acting Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole announced new COVID-19 mitigation requirements, the first in months.
As of Wednesday at midnight, there’s a citywide indoor mask mandate. Unless a restaurant is doing indoor dining. Then you have to wear a mask except when you’re sitting at your table. Restaurants and businesses that choose to require proof of vaccination can also skip indoor masking — if proprietors are able to check vaccine status for all employees and patrons. But that means that if you have a child under 12 — who can’t be vaccinated — they can’t come to that business.
Also, masks are required at non-seated outdoor events with more than 1,000 people. So as of now, yes to masks at Made in America (though Kenney said discussions with organizers are ongoing) but no to masks at a Phillies game.
The city will also require new employees to be vaccinated starting Sept. 1. But current employees can choose either to get the vaccine or wear two masks for added protection.
If this seems confusing to you, you are not alone.
Kenney’s administration is reacting responsibly by responding to the uptick of COVID-19 cases, hoping to flatten the rising curve before hospitalizations and potentially deaths could rise to uncontrollable levels.
The new guidance is welcome action. But it also raises questions.
On proof of vaccination: What impact will this policy have on parents, who presumably can’t bring their kids under 12 to businesses requiring proof of vaccination? New York City’s indoor dining policy, which requires proof of at least one shot, does not exclude children in this way.
On the city vaccine mandate: The White House requires nonvaccinated federal employees to wear a mask, physically distance from all other employees and visitors, comply with a weekly or twice-weekly testing, and be subject to travel restrictions. Pennsylvania and other states and cities also require testing, in lieu of vaccine. Why does Philadelphia allow an opt out by only double masking? City officials explained that there is logistical concern in terms of providing time for employees to get tested, but testing for COVID-19 takes minimal time, and many other organizations — including Philadelphia City Council — announced similar measures.
Additionally, Kenney’s responses to questions — including whether there will be assistance to businesses tasked with enforcing these restrictions with little notice — lacked the empathy our city’s residents deserve after 18 months of this pandemic. It’s also an attitude that is unlikely to motivate unvaccinated Philadelphians to change their minds.
Requiring masks indoors and mandating vaccines for city employees are the rights steps. The city admirably strived for nuance with these restrictions, but the “if this, then that” approach on masks could create confusing and new problems, especially for parents. The vaccine mandate opt out could undercut its own goal — getting more people vaccinated.
It will be up to the administration to keep tweaking and clarifying this guidance, and up to all Philadelphians to comply. If we all do this right, hopefully, these COVID-19 mandates will be the last the city needs.