Everything you need to know about Philly’s new COVID-19 vaccine and mask requirements
Where you have to wear a mask, where you need proof of vaccination, and more.
Philadelphia’s new rule mandating masks in all indoor businesses — unless everyone inside is required to prove they are fully vaccinated — will go into effect Thursday.
Here’s what you need to know.
» READ MORE: Philadelphia’s new mask mandate begins at midnight
What are the new rules in Philly?
The city announced new mask and vaccine requirements for all indoor businesses on Wednesday.
Masks are once again required at all indoor businesses and institutions, whether or not you’re vaccinated, unless the business is requiring staff to get vaccinated and is requiring proof-of-vaccination from patrons.
This means all indoor businesses, not just restaurants. It’s also indoor offices and any indoor gathering space.
Masks are also required at non-seated outdoor events with more than 1,000 people.
The move comes as more employers, cities, and states are requiring proof of vaccination. As of Sept. 1, the city will also require all new hires to be vaccinated, and current city employees to be vaccinated or wear two masks while at work.
When do the new mask and vaccine requirements go into place?
Philadelphia’s new mask mandate and proof-of-vaccination rule will take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 12.
At cooling centers, which the city opens during heat emergencies and are open during this week’s heat emergency, the mask mandate went into place at noon Wednesday.
Do all businesses have to require masks?
No. If businesses require staff to get vaccinated and require proof of vaccination from patrons, they do not have to require masks.
In other words, masks are only required in the indoor spaces that are not checking guest’s vaccination status and are not requiring staff to get vaccinated.
Why is this happening now?
The new requirements are in place to slow the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant of COVID-19. Nationwide, daily case counts have doubled within the last two weeks. In Philadelphia, the rate of new cases has doubled three times in the last month. And though hospitals here are far from overrun by coronavirus cases like some other parts of the country, for the first time since June more than 100 people are hospitalized due to the coronavirus.
Experts have said vaccine requirements could encourage more people to get inoculated. Currently, 63% of city residents have been vaccinated.
The city’s previous honor system, where officials “strongly recommended” everyone wear masks indoors, hasn’t worked, acting Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said, and it’s difficult for businesses to enforce masking rules based on individuals’ vaccination status.
“I think all-or-nothing is really what’s going to work for them at this point,” she said.
The reinstated mask requirement is “a first step,” Bettigole said, adding that the city will reassess based on future case numbers, hospitalizations, and vaccination rates.
How will Philadelphia’s vaccine-or-mask requirement be enforced?
The city is asking that all businesses require people to wear masks indoors, or, if establishments do not want to require masks, have a “reasonable system for enforcing” proof of vaccination, Bettigole said. That means businesses that do require proof of vaccination should ask to see patrons’ cards or a photo of the card on their phone.
Meanwhile, all other establishments must require individuals to wear masks — regardless of their vaccine status — indoors. Businesses enforcing a mask mandate should have signs making it obvious at the entrance, Bettigole said.
Enforcement of coronavirus rules is typically “complaint-driven,” Bettigole said, with inspectors visiting establishments under scrutiny. If issues are not corrected on site, inspectors can close a business and charge $315 to reinspect and reopen operations. In rare cases, the health department can take a business to court and charge fines of up to $2,000 per day.
If issues arise for a particular business enforcing the new rules, the city is “happy to give them guidance,” Mayor Jim Kenney said.
How do I show my proof of vaccination? How do I get a vaccine card if I lost mine?
In many cases, you may be able to show a photo of your vaccine card on your phone instead of the actual card. Be sure to take pictures of both sides of your vaccine card and keep those pictures stored on your phone.
If you’re traveling and need to show your vaccine card to cross a border, however, you should have the original document with you.
According to the city, valid proof of vaccination includes a CDC card, a vaccine record from the health department, vaccine passport apps, or cards from other countries.
In general, having your card on your person — for instance, in your wallet or handbag — isn’t a bad idea, unless you are prone to losing things.
If you can’t find your vaccine card and were vaccinated in Philadelphia, you can contact the city’s COVID Call Center at 215-685-5488 or email@example.com to get a record of your COVID vaccination status. The staff at the center will determine the fastest way to get you your immunization record. This record is not a copy of the card you received when you were vaccinated, but it will still show proof of vaccination.
What does it mean to be fully vaccinated? How do I get vaccinated?
To be fully vaccinated, you have to have received your final vaccine dose at least two weeks ago.
For those who aren’t yet vaccinated, it’s easy to get a shot. There are many places throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey — pharmacies, neighborhood rec centers, and more — where you can get your free COVID-19 shot. Visit phila.gov to find a vaccination place near you.
If you have already had the coronavirus, you still need proof of vaccination to enter businesses requiring it.
What does this mean for going out to eat?
To eat indoors at a space that requires proof of vaccination, you must show your vaccination card. In most cases, outdoor dining, unless explicitly noted by the restaurant, is still open to unvaccinated individuals.
In spaces that don’t require proof of vaccination, indoor dining will still remain an option. The difference is masks will be required for patrons and staff (whether unvaccinated or vaccinated) when you aren’t eating or drinking.
Do I have to wear a mask outside?
Yes and no. If you are in a standing crowd of more than 1,000 people, like a concert with a mosh pit, you must wear a mask regardless of vaccination status, Bettigole said. Additionally, at the Mann Center in Fairmount Park, masks are required at all times, unless you’re eating or drinking.
If you are sitting down at a large outdoor event, like a Phillies or Eagles game, you do not currently need to wear a mask, she said, but will need a mask handy for visiting indoor spaces in the stadiums.
And if you are attending a smaller outdoor gathering with fewer than 1,000 people — say, a wedding or party — you are not required by the city to wear a mask. However, if you feel more comfortable in your mask at a smaller outdoor gathering, there is nothing wrong with wearing one.
Do the new rules include capacity limits for businesses?
No. A defining feature of last year’s virus restrictions, the city is shying away from putting capacity limits on businesses for now, Bettigole said, hoping that the mask-or-vaccination rules will be effective without taking a toll on the economy.
“We have a weapon now we didn’t have last year: We have very effective vaccines and they are readily available and they are free,” she said. “We’re going to have to watch the numbers and see if this works, but we are trying not to hurt our city economically at a time that it’s just starting to recover.”
What about kids who are too young to be vaccinated?
Unvaccinated people — including children under 12 who are too young to receive the shot — are not allowed inside businesses requiring proof of vaccination to enter, Bettigole said. In an Aug. 13 press conference, Bettigole clarified that children dining outdoors at restaurants that require proof of vaccination can still enter to use the bathroom.
“Quick, masked bathroom trips” don’t violate the city’s regulations, she said.
Also on Aug. 13, Bettigole noted that grocery stores, doctors offices, pharmacies, and urgent care centers must require masks and do not have the option to accept proof of vaccination instead. This allows children under 12 to still enter these spaces.
Philadelphia schools are expected to welcome students back for full-time in-person learning starting Aug. 31, and will require all students and staff to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. Families not yet comfortable with the return to classrooms can enroll in virtual schooling.
Are vaccine or mask requirements legal?
Yes. Much like a dress code or a friendly “no shirt, no shoes, no service” reminder, businesses can require proof of vaccination and masks.
According to Eric Feldman, professor of law and medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, requiring proof of vaccination does not violate HIPAA or the Fourth Amendment.
“It’s quite clear that restaurants, airlines, cruise ships, your local café, your local university, [or] the school that you may choose to send your child to are all within their legal bounds in asking you to demonstrate that you or your child has been vaccinated,” he says.
Staff writer Sean Collins Walsh contributed to this article.