Philly mandates COVID vaccine for colleges, health care workers; updates mask rules

The Board of Health also passed an amended version of the mask mandate for essential businesses.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Philadelphia health care workers and students and staff of city colleges will be required to be vaccinated by October 15, health officials say.

Several categories of essential businesses will also be required to make sure everyone is wearing a mask at all times.

Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole made those announcements Friday morning.

Bettigole said the regulations, passed during Thursday night's Board of Health meeting, are "aimed at keeping our city's most vulnerable residents safe, and decreasing the spread of infection."

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The City of Philadelphia announced vaccine mandate for colleges, health care workers; mask mandate some essential businesses.



VACCINE MANDATE FOR COLLEGES, HEALTH WORKERS



By Oct. 15, all health care workers will be required to be vaccinated unless they have a religious or a medical exemption.

Health care workers with an exemption will be required to have a PCR test or an antigen test twice per week, Bettigole said.

All staff, students and faculty at colleges and universities in the city will also be required to be vaccinated by Oct. 15 against COVID-19, unless they have a religious or medical exemption.

Bettigole said colleges and universities will be required to offer one or more of the following accommodations for those with exemptions:

1. PCR testing once a week, or antigen testing twice a week
2. For those colleges and universities with 90% or more of their population vaccinated, they can choose to offer those with exemptions the option of double masking and keeping at least six feet of social distance in indoor so indoor public spaces, or
3. If feasible, colleges and universities may choose to offer those with exemptions a virtual option as their accommodation.

Bettigole said with students coming from places around the country to attend university, including areas with much higher transmission and positivity rates, and with college-aged people experiencing some of the highest positivity rates right now, the mandate was necessary to prevent spread in the city.

"These regulations are aimed at protecting the most vulnerable, through the vaccination of health care workers, and they're aimed at preventing the further spread of COVID-19 through the vaccination of college and university students understanding that young adults are the population with the lowest vaccination rate and the highest rate of COVID-19 infection," Bettigole said.

Already a number of colleges and universities in the city had a vaccination requirement with exceptions and alternatives. That includes Jefferson, Drexel, Penn, Philadelphia Community College, La Salle and Lincoln University, which has a campus in West Philadelphia.

Until Friday, Temple only had a strong recommendation to get vaccinated but the university did have an indoor mask mandate.

The mandate includes a broad definition of health care workers. Bettigole said it includes anyone who works in a health care institution or comes into contact with patients - school nurses and home health aides, for example. It does not apply to pharmacy workers, she said.

UPDATED MASK MANDATE FOR ESSENTIAL BUSINESSES



In addition to these requirements, the Board of Health also passed an amended version of the mask mandate that was announced on Wednesday.

Bettigole said these changes were made based on input from the public.

The changes include a new category of essential businesses including grocery stores, pharmacies, doctors' offices and urgent care centers which will only have the mask mandate. The vaccine, mask-free option will not exist at these businesses.

"That way parents do not have to worry that they'll be unable to stop by the grocery store with their children," Bettigole said.

Health officials do not consider quick, masked bathroom trips to be a violation of the mask mandate for those establishments that following the mask-free, vaccinated-only option.

She said these changes are made to make the mandate less worrisome for parents and children too young to be vaccinated.

In announcing these requirements and mandate changes, Acting Health Commissioner said the city has tried incentives in the past to get people vaccinated - including Eagles and Phillies tickets and a sweepstakes, but now more needs to be done.

"But at a certain point, with cases soaring and hospitalizations on the rise. We have to act," Bettigole said. "There are hospitals in this country that are full, where soon doctors will be in the position of having to decide which critically ill patient gets the ventilator or the ICU bed, and where emergency departments will be telling ambulances that they have to drive to another hospital, even if that hospital is miles away."

"We cannot let that happen here in Philadelphia. We have to act."

Earlier this week, the Department of Public Health announced a new mask mandate affecting businesses and outdoor gatherings.

Masks must be worn inside businesses unless the business requires proof of vaccination, health officials say.

RELATED: Philadelphia imposes new mask mandate to combat rise in COVID cases
To prove vaccination status, people will need to carry their vaccination card or a photo of the card.

Officials also announced that unseated outdoor gatherings of more than 1,000 people are required to have everyone masked.

The Associated Press contributed to this report
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