A lawsuit filed Saturday by over 20 local Philadelphia businesses and residents seeks to block the city’s new indoor mask mandate that began on Monday.
The city is the first major U.S. metropolitan area to reinstate the mandate, which health officials say is in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases. They assert the move is to head off a possible new wave of an Omicron subvariant.
The suit accuses the city of having “usurped the power and authority” of state lawmakers and policymakers. Attorneys for the plaintiffs note the order runs counter to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and charge it imposed “a renegade standard unfound anywhere else in the world.”
Another plaintiff’s emergency motion for a preliminary injunction against the mandate was denied in court. The mayor’s office cites the decision as confirming the municipality has “both the legal authority and requisite flexibility” to take “necessary measures” against the pandemic.
Philadelphia’s indoor mask mandate ended March 2 as most cities and states dropped their requirements near the end of February and early March. City health officials point to an over 50% jump in confirmed COVID-19 cases in a 10-day period, passing the threshold in its established guidelines.
Health commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole defends the action, saying if the city does not act, a wave of infections may be followed by “a wave of deaths,” and added it will then be “too late for many of our residents.”
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in December unanimously ruled that the governor’s office does not have legal authority to impose mask mandates in schools and childcare centers. Their decision was based on state lawmakers’ ending their emergency disaster declaration, and justices said the Department of Health does not have the power “to act by whim or fiat.”
That ruling may preview the outcome of this lawsuit against new mask mandates. Making arbitrary thresholds and then ordering hundreds of thousands to mask is a power that will very likely be reined in by the courts. If even the CDC says the threat is not very high, that’s a rather good sign that Philadelphia is overstepping.