Dec. 14 (UPI) — Health officials in California and Philadelphia introduced new mandates aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 amid rising cases and the presence of the Omicron variant in the United States.
California imposed a one-month statewide mask mandate for indoor public spaces amid a post-Thanksgiving spike in new COVID-19 cases and Philadelphia announced that patrons at indoor restaurants must be fully vaccinated beginning next month.
The California Department of Health and Human Services announced the new measure will start Wednesday and run through Jan. 15.
Under the new rules, the state will require masking indoors at all public places and toughened rules for “mega events” with more than 1,000 people, such as concerts and sporting events.
Prior to attending such an event, attendees will now be required to have either proof of vaccination, a negative antigen COVID-19 test within one day of the event or a negative PCR test within two days of the event.
“We are already seeing a higher level of transmission this winter and it is important to act now to prevent overwhelming our busy hospitals so we can provide quality health care to all Californians,” CDPH Director Dr. Tomas Aragon in a statement.
“We know people are tired and hungry for normalcy, and frankly, I am too,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly told reporters on a conference call, according to the Sacramento Bee.
“That said, this is a critical time where we have a tool that we know has worked. We are proactively putting this tool of universal indoor masking in public settings in place to ensure we get through a time of joy and hope without a darker cloud of concern and despair.”
The new rule will affect about 50% of Californians, covering those who are not currently under local indoor masking mandates. That includes residents of San Diego and Orange counties, the Inland Empire, the Central Valley and rural Northern California.
Ghaly said California’s rate of new daily COVID-19 cases has risen by 47% since Thanksgiving, jumping from about 9.6 cases per 100,000 residents per day to 14 cases per 100,000.
Healthcare workers are burned out and fatigued from fighting the pandemic as hospital patient levels are already higher than normal for the winter respiratory disease season, he added.
In Philadelphia, the Department of Public Health announced that beginning Jan. 3 “establishments that sell food or drink for consumption onsite” in the city must require that everyone who enters has been fully vaccinated.
The mandate applies to indoor restaurants, bars, sports venues, movie theaters, bowling alleys, conventions, catering halls, casinos and cafes within larger spaces such as museums. The department added that food seating areas should also be cordoned off and have someone stationed to check vaccine status upon entry.
For the first two weeks of the mandate establishments will be permitted to accept proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours of entry for people who are not fully vaccinated but on Jan. 17 negative tests can no longer be used to grant entry.
Additionally, the mandate will not go into effect for children aged 5-11 until Feb. 3.
Children younger than 5 and those with religious or medical exemptions will also not be required to provide proof of vaccination but must provide proof of a negative test.