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Coronavirus Update: Philadelphia scraps indoor face-mask mandate just days after reimposing it, while cases are rising again in 40 states

Philadelphia is ending its indoor face-mask mandate just days after reimposing it with health officials saying it’s no longer needed as case numbers and hospitalizations have improved.

The Board of Health voted Thursday to rescind the mandate, according to the Philadelphia health department, the Associated Press reported.

The mandate had originally been ended on March 2, but was reintroduced after a spike in cases caused by the highly infectious BA.2 strain of the omicron variant, which is now dominant in the U.S. and across the world.

The health department did not release data to back up its reversal on masking, saying more information would be provided Friday. Philadelphia had become the first major U.S. city to reinstate its indoor mask mandate, but faced fierce blowback as well as a legal effort to get the mandate thrown out.

Face masks have again become a controversial issue in the U.S. after a federal judge in Florida overturned the national mandate on Monday. That move led airlines to immediately drop their requirements — in some cases midflight to the consternation of passengers traveling with young children who are not yet eligible for vaccination.

Video shows some airline passengers cheered when carriers announced they would no longer be requiring masks on domestic flights after a Florida federal judge voided the Biden administration’s Covid-19 mandate. Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters

But other public transport systems opted to stick with face coverings and the Justice Department has appealed the ruling after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it believes masks are still needed on public transport to protect public health.

See:CDC says face masks are still needed to protect the public, and WHO says omicron accounts for 99.5% of global COVID cases

A survey published this week found that most Americans still support wearing face masks in such spaces with 56% of those polled on board with their continued use.

Experts also believe it’s too soon to drop that requirement, especially as two new subvariants of BA.2, named BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1, are circulating widely.

Those strains are thought to be behind a recent increase in U.S. cases, which are averaging 43,142 cases a day, according to a New York Times tracker, up 52% from two weeks ago. Cases are climbing in 40 states and in several have more than doubled from two weeks ago.

The country is averaging 15,069 hospitalizations a day, down 1% from two weeks ago, but up from a day ago, and are climbing again in 19 states.

The daily death toll has fallen below 400 to 376 on average, the tracker shows.

Experts are cautioning that the U.S. is not yet fully in the endemic phase of the pandemic, even if many places are behaving as if it is.

Coronavirus Update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• Officials in Shanghai promised Friday to ease anti-virus controls on truck drivers that are hampering food supplies and trade, while Hong Kong’s government announced the end of a 2-year-old ban on non-residents flying into the city as its outbreak fades, the AP reported. Streets in Shanghai were largely empty despite an easing of restrictions that confined most of its 25 million people to their homes. Many residents still were barred from leaving their neighborhoods. A deputy mayor, Zhang Wei, promised “every effort” to resolve problems that prompted complaints about lack of food and fears the shutdown of China’s most populous city might disrupt global trade.

• Other changes in Hong Kong include the reopening of Disneyland
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and museums, the AP reported separately. Enthusiastic visitors ran into Disneyland the moment the gates opened after a three-month closure. Popular theme parks were ordered to close in January as Hong Kong’s fifth wave of the coronavirus took hold. Nearly 1.2 million people in the city of 7.4 million were infected in less than four months, and nearly 9,000 have died. “Since Christmas we haven’t been back here, my daughter’s really happy, she’s been waiting so long,” said Joyce Mak, 36, who brought her young daughter to Disneyland. “Last night she was so excited, she didn’t want to go to sleep.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized after being fined by U.K. police for breaking Covid-19 lockdown rules. When asked if he would quit, Johnson said he wanted to tackle the problems the country currently faces. Photo: Tayfun Salci/Zuma Press

• A U.K. patient with a severely weakened immune system had COVID-19 for almost a year and a half, scientists reported, underscoring the importance of protecting vulnerable people from the coronavirus, according to the AP. There’s no way to know for sure whether it was the longest-lasting COVID-19 infection because not everyone gets tested, especially on a regular basis like this case. But at 505 days, “it certainly seems to be the longest reported infection,” said Dr. Luke Blagdon Snell, an infectious disease expert at the Guy’s & St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. Snell’s team plans to present several “persistent” COVID-19 cases at an infectious diseases meeting in Portugal this weekend.

• California workplace regulators on Thursday extended mandatory pay for workers affected by the coronavirus through the end of 2022, acting more than two months after state lawmakers restored similar benefits through September. The decision again pitted management against labor as the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board renewed revised workplace safety rules that would otherwise have expired in early May. I don’t think we’re done with this yet,” board chairman David Thomas said of the pandemic. “There’s going to be a surge in a week or so,” Thomas added. “This is the best … protection we have.”

Here’s what the numbers say

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 508 million on Friday, while the death toll rose above 6.2 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 80.9 million cases and more than 990,681 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 219.2 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 66% of the total population. But just 99.8 million are boosted, equal to 45.5% of the vaccinated population.

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