This announcement comes on a day when hospitalizations in Pennsylvania are the lowest they’ve been since last July and deaths are the lowest they’ve been since last August.
Cases in Philly are up over the past month, but let’s keep “up” in perspective:
Although cases have doubled in the past three weeks, they’re at less than five percent of the peak during the Omicron wave this past winter. Deaths locally from COVID at the moment are also about as low as they’ve been at any point since last summer.
Even the CDC COVID website currently rates Philadelphia County as low risk, for cripes sake.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that this decision seems like political malpractice by Democrats in an election year, especially when one of the state’s Senate seats is on the line.
🧵 Due to increasing COVID-19 cases, @PhiladelphiaGov will move to Level 2: Mask Precautions beginning today. In order to provide a one-week education period for businesses, masks will be required in all indoor public spaces as of Monday, April 18, 2022. (1/4)
— Philadelphia Public Health (@PHLPublicHealth) April 11, 2022
City officials have tied their hands by using a tiered system in which certain daily numbers automatically mean certain rules take effect. In this case, an increase of more than 50 percent in cases over a 10-day span triggers “Level 2” in Philly, which means masks are now required indoors again — just a month after the mandate was finally relaxed. “Why can’t the city council redo the tiered system to create more flexibility now that the pandemic is basically over?” you may ask.
Good question. I’d be keen to know the answer.
The best argument for being aggressive in reinstating mandates early is to try to head off a major outbreak before it builds up steam. “Knowing that every previous wave of infections has been followed by a wave of hospitalizations, and then a wave of deaths, then it will be too late for many of our residents,” the city’s health commissioner said today when asked why Philly needs a mandate before cases have spiked. A reasonable compromise position to me would be to have the commissioner hold a press conference encouraging masking due to the rise of cases but not requiring it. That would serve the public health interest of alerting the locals that the risk of a new wave has grown while still observing a post-pandemic degree of “normalcy” by not formally reimplementing restrictions.
The city’s Democratic leaders are going to do things the hard way, though. Will they pay a price?
Your must-read of the day is this WSJ piece about longtime Democratic voters in New Jersey who’ve experienced various degrees of political “awakening” in frustration at their party’s itchy trigger finger on closing schools and mandating masks. Some of them voted for Republican Jack Ciattarelli against the Democratic incumbent, Phil Murphy, in last year’s governor’s race and are weighing whether to stick with the GOP this fall. One woman who describes herself as “far-left” on global warming and gay rights is voting Republican this year, she told the Journal, because she believes in “my body, my choice” across the board — not just on abortion but on masks and vaccine mandates. More:
Watching her daughter fall behind in virtual kindergarten, Ms. Loughran had grown so frustrated not knowing when her children would return to the classroom that she joined a group that attracted right-leaning parents in its school-reopening push. She was unhappy that Gov. Phil Murphy didn’t fight to reopen schools sooner, and she associated his fellow Democrats with mask mandates and restrictions.
She hasn’t decided which party to pick this fall in her local House race, a contest expected to help determine control of Congress. “What I do know,” she said, “is that my party-line vote shouldn’t be taken for granted anymore.”
The defection of once-loyal voters like Ms. Loughran—along with disapproval from independents—is among the challenges Democrats face in their bid to retain control of Congress and win state-level races in this November’s midterm elections. These voters say Democratic officials left pandemic restrictions in place too long and mishandled the health crisis, with devastating consequences for their children, while Republicans have generally pushed to minimize school closures and keep the economy open.
That’s the “COVID mom” bloc. We’ve seen them before in the wild, commenting online. There were enough of them in deep-blue New Jersey to nearly hand Ciattarelli a momentous upset victory. If in fact we see a midterm bloodbath this fall, they’ll be a key reason why.
Which makes me wonder whether John Fetterman and other Democrats on the ballot in Pennsylvania are quietly on the phone to Philly officials this afternoon, asking if it isn’t time to revisit the mandate regime now that America is committed to “living with COVID.”
I’ll leave you with this short but trenchant clip of Scott Gottlieb musing over how much BA.2 is circulating in the northeast. On the one hand, he thinks we’re badly undercounting the true number of infections as Americans forgo PCR lab tests for unreported rapid tests. In that sense, Philly’s right to worry. On the other hand, he thinks the bulk of those getting infected by BA.2 are probably people who dodged Omicron this winter — and people who dodged Omicron this winter are likely cautious by nature, hunkering down amid major outbreaks, masking up voluntarily, getting their shots, and so on. If he’s right, that may explain why hospitalizations are flat even as cases have begun to rise. The people who are catching COVID now are more likely to be up to date on their vaccinations and to avail themselves of therapeutics like Paxlovid and monoclonal antibodies. That means fewer trips to the ER and deaths in this new wave.
SCOTT GOTTLIEB: "We're probably only picking up 1 in 7 or 1 in 8 infections. So when we say there are 30,000 infections a day, there's probably closer to a quarter of a million infections a day…[but] I don't think it's going to become a nationalized epidemic of BA.2" pic.twitter.com/VOiFAfKKRH
— JM Rieger (@RiegerReport) April 11, 2022