Philadelphia drops COVID vaccination mandate for dining establishments; enters 'Mask Only' level

The Health Department has developed four COVID-19 response levels.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The City of Philadelphia has lifted its COVID-19 vaccination mandate for dining establishments due to the recent drop in cases as it unveiled a new tiered response to the pandemic, but an indoor mask mandate remains in place.

Philadelphia Public Health officials announced that the vaccine mandate was lifted immediately Wednesday. Officials also announced a new four-tier restriction system based on metrics such as case counts, positivity rates and hospitalizations.

"As of today, we no longer need our city's dining establishments to check vaccines," Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole announced Wednesday.

Bettigole said the mandate, which went into effect in January and made it mandatory for patrons to be vaccinated in order to enter, was hard on restaurants and places of entertainment.

"But the work those establishments have done has helped to decrease transmission and to increase vaccination rates in the city," Bettigole said.

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The City of Philadelphia has lifted its COVID-19 vaccination mandate for restaurants due to the drop in cases.



Bettigole said the change for dining establishments comes as the Department of Public Health developed four COVID-19 response levels.

"The new response levels are based on case counts, positivity, hospitalizations and the rate in change of cases," Bettigole explained. "They will provide transparency in to what city residents and business owners can expect going forward."

There are four levels of response: "All Clear," "Mask Precautions Only," "Caution" and "Extreme Caution.



Based on Wednesday's metric, Philadelphia has just entered Level 2, the "Mask Precautions Only" level, meaning the vaccine requirement for people entering establishments that serve food or drink is no longer in effect. In this level, masks are still required in indoor public places.

The all clear level would lift the city-specific mask mandates, but federal mask mandates in places like healthcare facilities and on public transportation would remain in place. Mask mandates in schools and at private businesses would also be separate from the city's restrictions.

Bettigole said once the city reaches a lower than 2% positive-testing rate and other metrics, the all clear could be issued. She said that could happen within a few weeks. The city's restriction status will be updated on Mondays, unless something dramatic happens, Bettigole said.

"We can't get back to normal if you put the cart before the horse," said Mayor Jim Kenney. "You can throw all of the politics and other issues into it, but the fact is we need to be safe... Everybody is looking for a way around it, but we're going to get there when we get there."

Bettigole said case rates are dropping everywhere, but they are dropping "farther and faster" in Philadelphia than in many other parts of the state and country.

Eliminating the proof of vaccination requirement is good for business, according to some restaurants. Devon Berk, the manager of Dim Sum House by Jane G's, said Wednesday during lunch was the first time they have not asked for a vaccine card since the requirement was put into effect in January.

"It definitely brings business back. The last two years of this pandemic, business has been come and go. It's been a roller coaster. You want to keep your patrons and your staff safe as much as you can but you want to keep business coming in the door," Berk said.

"We've followed every one (of COVID mitigation measures) because we want to keep everybody safe, it's the right thing to do," Berk continued. "But it definitely slowed business. It gives people uncertainty if they want to go out."

But the owner of Fergie's Pub on Sansom Street in Center City, Fergus Carey, said he is keeping the vaccine requirement in place.

Carey said since the mask mandate is still in effect it makes it easier on staff.

"At Fergie's Pub we're going to be the same we were yesterday. We went to proof of vaccination in November, long before it was mandated by the city," he said.

"If you just do vaccination proof, you do it once at the door while carding people. It's out of the way and then the guest has a much more pleasant experience, that's why we are sticking to that," he continued. "It's all hopeful from now on! Let's open up, spring is coming, COVID is going away, let's get back at it!"

The Wells Fargo Center issued a statement saying it is removing the requirement for guests to show proof of vaccination or a negative test in order to enter the arena, effective immediately.

"Over the past two years, we've invested tens of millions of dollars in state-of-the-art health and safety measures at Wells Fargo Center, and those investments have been a major success. Now, we're ready to start getting back to normal, and so are our fans," Valerie Camillo, President of Business Operations for Wells Fargo Center and the Philadelphia Flyers, said. "There's simply no better place to see a game, concert, or show than Wells Fargo Center, and the atmosphere that made Broad Street famous is finally coming back."

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Philadelphia is dropping some COVID restrictions, impacting venues like the Wells Fargo Center.



Stephen Rapp, marketing director for the Arden Theatre, says his hope now is that we keep moving in a positive direction.

"It's been a difficult moment to navigate," says Rapp, "and we want to do it in a way that we are not just making people feel safe, but making people as safe as possible."

We spoke with a bunch of people in the city who say it's time to return to, at least, a form of normalcy.

"I can't live in fear anymore. It's been too long. It's been two years. I think we need to move forward in this direction," said Gina Serratore of South Philadelphia.

"It's been a long time coming and I'm glad to see that it's coming. It's a good time for it," said Denise Worek of South Philadelphia.

WATCH: Dr. Bettigole's Announcement
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"As of today, we no longer need our city's dining establishments to check vaccines," Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said.



Here is a further breakdown of each COVID-19 Response Level:

Criteria for COVID-19 response levels



The response levels are triggered by meeting the following thresholds (the lowest level for which the city meets metrics will apply):

Level 4: Extreme Caution

Two or more of the following are true:
  • Average new cases per day is 500 or more.
  • Hospitalizations are 500 or more.
  • Percent positivity is 10% or more.
  • Cases have risen by more than 50% in the previous 10 days.


Level 3: Caution

Three or more of the following are true:
  • Average new cases per day is less than 500.
  • Hospitalizations are under 500.
  • Percent positivity is under 10%.
  • Cases have not risen by more than 50% in the previous 10 days.


Level 2: Mask Precautions

Three or more of the following are true:
  • Average new cases per day is less than 225 (this is approximately the cut-off between CDC's "high" and "substantial" levels of transmission).
  • Hospitalizations are under 100.
  • Percent positivity is under 5%.
  • Cases have not risen by more than 50% in the previous 10 days.


Level 1: All Clear

Three or more of the following are true:
  • Average new cases per day is less than 100 (this is approximately the cut-off between CDC's "substantial" and "moderate" levels of transmission).
  • Hospitalizations are under 50.
  • Percent positivity is under 2%.
  • Cases have not risen by more than 50% in the previous 10 days.


Mandates for COVID-19 response levels



Level 4: Extreme Caution

  • Proof of vaccination required for places that serve food or drink.
  • Masks required in indoor public places.


Level 3: Caution

  • Proof of vaccination or negative test within 24 hours (acceptable tests include lab or onsite testing, not home tests) for places that serve food or drink.
  • Masks required in indoor public places.


Level 2: Mask Precautions

  • No vaccine requirement for places that serve food or drink.
  • Masks required in indoor public places.


Level 1: All Clear

  • No vaccine requirement for places that serve food or drink.
  • No mask requirement (except in schools, healthcare institutions, congregate settings, and on public transportation; see "other situations," below).


What the COVID-19 response levels mean for you



  • The City says by understanding the current level of risk, you will know how to best protect yourself and others and follow the City's mandates.


When the City is in Level 4 (Extreme Caution):
  • You will need to present proof that you're fully vaccinated to eat indoors.
  • You will need to wear a mask while in indoor public places.


When the City is in Level 3 (Caution):
  • You will need to present proof that you're fully vaccinated or a have negative test from a lab or that is administered onsite to eat indoors.
  • You will need to wear a mask while in indoor public places.


When the City is in Level 2 (Mask Precautions):
  • You will need to wear a mask while in indoor public places.


When the City is in Level 1 (All Clear):
  • No COVID-19 mandates will be enforced.


Incentive for Vaccination



"When the vaccine mandate was announced, we were in the midst of the omicron wave and only 27.5% of Philadelphia's children ages 5 to 11 had had a first dose of the COVID vaccine, slightly ahead of the national level," Bettigole said, adding, "today cases are dropping rapidly and 53.1% of the city's 5 to 11 have had their first dose of vaccine compared to 31.8% nationally. A huge jump forward although more work needs to be done."

Beginning this week at health department community clinics, Philadelphians who complete their primary COVID vaccine series will receive $100 funded through a grant from the CDC.

Bettigole said people can receive the funds through a digital app a few days after or a physical gift card by mail in a couple of weeks.

"If you've been trying to get motivated to get your second dose of Pfizer or Moderna, this is your moment," Bettigole said.

A list of clinics will be available at https://www.phila.gov/covid. The program is scheduled to run for six weeks.
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