“The entire Philadelphia area is witnessing a dangerous spike in COVID-19 cases,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole in a statement, but additional health officials will not reinstate a mask mandate at this time. “We strongly recommend that every Philadelphian and visitor wear a mask when indoors in public.”
The number of residents who have tested positive for the virus is as high as it was in the first week of February, health officials said, and about 142 people are in city hospitals with the virus — up from 79 three weeks ago.
“The pandemic is not over yet. Most hospitals continue to see COVID patients, with the majority of patients hospitalized for COVID not being fully vaccinated,” said Dr. Tony S. Reed, chief medical officer at Temple Health, in a statement.
The warnings come as local health officials elsewhere in the country have urged Americans to take precautions amid another round of rising infections. The New York City health commissioner said cases and hospitalizations were also increasing there on Wednesday, but Mayor Eric Adams said he will not reintroduce a mask mandate at this time.
“Variations will come,” Adams said. “If we start thinking about shutting down with every variant that comes up, we’ll panic, we won’t function as a city.”
The rise in cases is happening nationwide: About a third of people in the US live in areas with moderate or high levels of Covid-19 community, said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky at a White House briefing on Wednesday. In the Northeast, about 40% of people live in counties believed to have high levels of community, CNN reported. The surge is likely being driven by “incredibly contagious subvariants” floating around, said Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator.
“We were hit by the BA.1 infection wave in December, January. We’ve seen BA.2. And now we see BA.2.12.1 in a large part of the country. They’re more contagious with more immune evasion, and they’re driving much of the surge in infections we’re currently seeing across the country,” Jha said in Wednesday’s briefing. “And that’s a huge challenge.”
But America is in a better place than it was two years ago, he said, “largely because of the capabilities that science has provided for us: vaccines, boosters, therapeutics, tests, masks.”
“We need to keep using that as the virus evolves and as the virus continues to do what it’s doing,” Jha said.