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Philadelphia’s Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are climbing. Officials are not looking to reinstate mask mandates

By Rob Frehse and Christina Maxouris, CNN

Philadelphia health leaders warned Thursday that in the past three weeks, reported Covid-19 infections have more than doubled and hospitalizations have nearly doubled as well.

“The entire Philadelphia region is seeing COVID-19 cases rise dangerously,” Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said in a statement, but added health officials will not be reinstating a mask mandate at this time. “We strongly recommend that every Philadelphian and visitors wear a mask whenever they’re indoors in public.”

The number of residents testing positive for the virus is as high as it was in the first week of February, health officials said, and roughly 142 people are in city hospitals with the virus — up from 79 three weeks ago.

“The pandemic is not over. Most all hospitals continue to see COVID patients, with the majority of patients hospitalized for COVID being not fully vaccinated,” Dr. Tony S. Reed, chief medical officer at Temple Health, said in a statement.

The warnings come as local health officials in other parts of the country have been urging Americans to take precautions amid another round of rising infections. New York City’s health commissioner said Wednesday cases and hospitalizations there were on the rise too, yet Mayor Eric Adams said he wasn’t going to reinstate a mask mandate at this time.

“Variants are going to come,” Adams said. “If every variant that comes, we move into shutdown thoughts, we move into panicking, we’re not going to function as a city.”

The case surge is happening nationwide: roughly a third of people in the US live in areas with medium or high Covid-19 community levels, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a White House briefing Wednesday. In the Northeast, about 40% of people are in counties considered to have high community levels, CNN has reported.

Driving the increase likely are “incredibly contagious subvariants,” that are circulating, said Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator.

“We were hit with the BA.1 — wave of infections in December, January. We saw BA.2. And now we’re seeing, in a large chunk of the country, BA.2.12.1. They are more contagious with more immune escape, and they are driving a lot of the increases in infection that we’re seeing across the nation right now,” Jha said in Wednesday’s briefing. ” And that is 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 delivered for us: vaccines, boosters, therapeutics, testing, masks.”

“We’ve got to keep using that as the virus evolves and as the virus continues to do what it’s doing,” Jha said.

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