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As Covid Cases Fall in Some Areas, Local Governments Are Ditching Vaccine Mandates for Restaurants

Officials move to roll back restrictions as case rates fall.

Jean-Georges, Philadelphia courtesy Christian Horan

On the heels of major cities, including New York and Los Angeles, mandating Covid-19 vaccination for people wishing to dine inside, Philadelphia announced in December it would require diners get the shot too. The policy went into effect on January 3, but with the Omicron wave now cresting in the City of Brotherly Love, it announced Wednesday it would drop the vaccine mandate.

That means restaurants will no longer be required to check vaccine cards before letting patrons dine inside, effective immediately. However, mask mandates will remain at Philly restaurants for the time being.

Philadelphia is not alone. Earlier this week Washington, DC announced it would drop its vaccine requirement amid falling Covid-19 case rates, while in King County, Wash. (where Seattle is located), officials said the health department would no longer require vaccines for restaurants, bars and gyms starting on March 1.

“Our public health experts believe that now is the appropriate time to lift vaccine verification, based on high rates of vaccine coverage and the decrease in new cases and hospitalizations across the county,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said. “We are moving in the right direction, and can continue taking additional steps toward recovery.”

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole cited falling hospitalizations and new infections (there are around 150 new cases per day in the city, a 95 percent drop from a month ago) for the change in policy. “It’s gotten us a long way, but with cases dropping dramatically, positivity dropping dramatically, it doesn’t feel like we have to have it in place right now, and it feels unfair to continue that longer than we have to have it,” she said.

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In her announcement, Bettigole said the city would would have a four-tier response to rolling back Covid-19 regulations. Philadelphia was moving from level three “Caution” down to level two “Mask Precautions,” meaning the vaccine mandate goes away but masks stay. The “All Clear” level where masks would be eliminated would be achieved when the city’s positive test rate fell below two percent, which Bettigole expects will happen in the coming weeks.

Of course, a new variant and surging case counts could mean the vaccine requirement in the Philadelphia and elsewhere could return, but officials hope it won’t come to that.

“While we are not done with Covid, and in no way are we declaring the end to the fight against the pandemic, I am glad that we have reached a point where we know much, much, much more about this virus and which strategies will help us manage its spread,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. “My hope is that within the next month or so we’ll kind of be back to normal. Here’s the bottom line: get vaccinated, get boosted and wear your damn mask.”

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