What the New Mask Mandate Means for Dining Out in Philadelphia

If you’re going out to (or working in) a restaurant in Philadelphia, here’s what you need to know about the new masking mandate that goes into effect on April 18th.

Photograph by Kevin Dietsch/Getty

Today Philadelphia Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole announced that the city will reinstate a mask mandate in all public indoor spaces – including restaurants and bars – starting Monday, April 18th. The change comes as Philadelphia’s percentage of COVID cases has increased more than 50 percent over the last 10 days, triggering the city to move into Level 2 of its COVID response plan, which focuses entirely on mask precautions.

According to city data, 4.5 percent of COVID-19 tests in Philadelphia have come back positive in the last two weeks, with an average of 142 new cases per day. Bettigole confirmed on Monday that city officials assume a rise in cases can be linked to the new omicron variant, B.A. 2. “We don’t actually have sequencing data back yet, but we’re expecting that sequencing data to show that this is predominantly B.A.2.”

In a statement to the press on Monday, Mayor Jim Kenney said, “Given the recent rise in cases, we are moving to Level 2 in hopes of preventing higher case rates and stricter measures. Our city remains open; we can still go about our daily lives and visit the people and places we love while masking in indoor public spaces. I’m optimistic that this step will help us control the case rate.”

Meanwhile senior director of operations of the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association, Ben Fileccia, expressed his dissatisfaction with the new masking mandate on Twitter. “We are extremely disappointed to hear that the city plans to mandate that masks be required when dining indoors without any input from the mitigated community. Restaurant workers have suffered severe backlash when enforcing these rules in the past and, unfortunately, this time will be no different.”

The city’s mask mandate won’t go into effect until Monday, April 18th, in order to give indoor businesses a week to inform staff of the change and put up signs. According to a spokesperson for the city’s health department on Monday, Philly businesses have previously asked for “adequate notice” before COVID policies change. As such, the health department plans to distribute information through the commerce department’s contact lists this week.

If you’re going out to (or working in) a restaurant in Philadelphia, here’s what you need to know about the new masking mandate that goes into effect on April 18th:

Are restaurants going to ask for proof of vaccination?
While it’s within a business’s right to require proof of vaccination during any level of Philly’s COVID response plan, bars and restaurants will not be asked to limit indoor service to vaccinated-only customers. The new mandate, which starts April 18th, only requires masks be worn in indoor spaces.

If a restaurant asks for proof of vaccine, do I still have to wear a mask inside?
No. A health department spokesperson said via email that “establishments can decide to move to a vaccinated-only policy, whereby the only people who can come into the workspace are vaccinated and forgo the mask mandate. If they do make this move, it applies to both customers and staff.”

How am I supposed to wear a mask when I’m, for instance, drinking a milkshake at my table?
You don’t need to attempt such a thing. Staff and customers must be masked in restaurants (or in any public indoor space for that matter) at all times other than when they’re eating and drinking.

Does the mask mandate apply to bars and nightclubs as well?
All public indoor spaces will be required to enforce masking, regardless of whether they sell food and beverages. That means bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, and restaurants all will follow the same policy.

What happens between now and Monday, April 18th?
The health department advises that businesses begin to put masking signs back up, as well as notify their staff and customers about the impending change. “Businesses can help do this not only in their storefronts but by making announcements on their websites and social media accounts,” a spokesperson from the agency said.

Is masking forever?
The mask mandate will be removed once the city returns to an All-Clear Level, meaning at least two of the following statements are true: The average of new cases per day is less than 100, hospitalizations are less than 50, or cases have increased by less than 50 percent in the previous 10 days.