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Philadelphia drops indoor mask mandate again, just days after reinstating it

The Philadelphia Board of Health voted to rescind its indoor mask mandate Thursday, just days after reinstating it.

On April 11, Philadelphia Public Health announced that, effective April 18, it would require the wearing of face coverings in all indoor public spaces, “including schools and childcare settings, businesses, restaurants, and government buildings,” making it the first major U.S. city to reverse course after dropping mask requirements on March 2.

This week, however, the board voted to reverse course again, citing “decreasing hospitalizations and a leveling of case counts,” Fox News reports. It did not specify when the latest policy will take effect, but added that the “City will move to strongly recommending masks in indoor public spaces as opposed to a mask mandate.”

Many suspect that reversals such as this one in Democrat strongholds such as Philadelphia have less to do with evolving data and more to do with the political costs of mandatory masking. 

In recent months, party consultants have privately urged Democrats to distance themselves from mask mandates, advice taken by various governors and mayors across the country, to the point that only seven states (plus the District of Columbia and several U.S. territories) still have statewide mask mandates. Last month, seven Senate Democrats joined Republicans in voting to express formal disapproval of the Biden administration’s mandate to wear masks on planes and public transportation.

Further, evidence indicates that masking has been largely ineffective at limiting the spread of COVID-19.

Among that evidence is the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s September 2020 acknowledgement that masks cannot be counted on to keep out COVID when spending 15 minutes or longer within six feet of someone, and a May 2020 study published by CDC’s peer-reviewed journal Emerging Infectious Diseases that “did not find evidence that surgical-type face masks are effective in reducing laboratory-confirmed influenza transmission, either when worn by infected persons (source control) or by persons in the general community to reduce their susceptibility.”

Last May, another study found that, though mandates effectively increased mask use, that usage did not yield the expected benefits. “Mask mandates and use (were) not associated with lower SARS-CoV-2 spread among U.S. states” from March 2020 to March 2021. In fact, the researchers found the results to be a net negative, with masks increasing “dehydration … headaches and sweating and decreas[ing] cognitive precision,” and interfering with communication, as well as impairing social learning among children.

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