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One major US city is bringing back an indoor mask mandate

Philadelphia's top health official said the rise in COVID cases indicates the city might be at the start of a new wave and officials are trying to stay ahead of it.

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia is reinstating its indoor mask mandate after reporting a sharp increase in coronavirus infections, becoming the first major U.S. city to do so this spring. 

This comes as COVID-19 outbreaks have popped up in recent weeks in parts of the Northeast. 

Cabinet members, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Broadway actors and the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut have all tested positive. Outbreaks at Georgetown University and Johns Hopkins University are bringing back mask requirements to those campuses as officials seek out quarantine space. In the nation's capitol, American University announced Monday it would also be bringing back masks. 

Philadelphia's top health official announced Monday that confirmed COVID-19 cases in the city have risen more than 50% in 10 days, the threshold at which their local guidelines call for people to wear masks indoors. 

The city is reporting more than 140 cases per day, a fraction of what it saw at the height of the omicron surge, and hospitalizations remain low. But Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, the Philadelphia health commissioner, said the recent increase in infections indicates the city might be at the beginning of a new wave, and city officials are seeking to stay ahead of it by requiring indoor masking.

Experts believe the known infections are likely to be vast undercounts of how widely the virus is circulating because of home testing and those who are mildly sick not bothering to test at all. 

Meanwhile, this comes as the federal requirement for masks on planes and public transportation is set to expire next Monday, April 18. But the White House's new COVID-19 response coordinator, Ashish Jha, said Monday on the "TODAY Show" that it could be extended again. He stressed that the decision is ultimately up to the CDC.

Large indoor gatherings with masks optional have led to infections, with a high-profile party in Washington, D.C., now seen as a possible super-spreader event.

In Washington D.C., the outbreak has been particularly high profile — striking multiple Cabinet secretaries and Congress members along with Mayor Muriel Bowser and the president of Georgetown University.

At least a dozen of those infections can be traced to the Gridiron Club dinner, an annual fixture of the D.C. social calendar that took place Saturday for the first time in three years. The dinner is an example of a return to near-total normality that’s taking place around the country, leading to a spike in positive tests, but not necessarily a corresponding spike in serious illnesses or hospitalizations.


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