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Thursday, February 2, 2023
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Suit Seeks to Overturn Renewed Philadelphia Mask Mandate

'[Philadelphia's government] imposed a renegade standard unfound anywhere else in the world...'

Several businesses and residents have filed suit in state court in Pennsylvania seeking to overturn Philadelphia’s renewed indoor mask mandate.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Commonwealth Court, said Philadelphia lacks the authority to impose such a mandate.

Philadelphia earlier this week became the first major U.S. city to reinstate its indoor mask mandate after reporting a sharp increase in coronavirus infections.

The city’s top health official said she wanted to forestall a potential new wave driven by a subvariant of omicron.

Attorney Thomas W. King III, who was among those involved in last year’s successful challenge to the statewide mask mandate in schools, said the city’s emergency order went against recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and “imposed a renegade standard unfound anywhere else in the world.”

The suit accuses city health officials of having “usurped the power and authority” of state lawmakers, the state department of health and the state advisory health board. A message seeking comment was sent to the Philadelphia mayor’s office.

Most states and cities dropped their masking requirements in February and early March following new guidelines from the CDC that put less focus on case counts and more on hospital capacity and said most Americans could safely take off their masks.

Philadelphia had ended its indoor mask mandate March 2. But Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, the health commissioner, cited a rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases which met the threshold at which the city’s guidelines call for people to wear masks indoors.

“If we fail to act now, knowing that every previous wave of infections has been followed by a wave of hospitalizations, and then a wave of deaths, it will be too late for many of our residents,” Bettigole said.

Omicron and its subsequent variants have been largely harmless, usually manifesting as mild colds.

Health inspectors are to begin enforcing the mask mandate at city businesses on Monday.

The restaurant industry pushed back against the renewed mandate, saying workers will bear the brunt of customer anger over the new rules.

The state Supreme Court in December ruled that the governor’s administration had no legal authority to require masks in Pennsylvania’s schools and child care centers, citing state lawmakers’ elimination of an emergency disaster declaration. The 6-0 ruling said state law gives health officials broad authority to protect public health but doesn’t permit the department “to act by whim or fiat in all matters concerning disease.”

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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