Masks are back, restaurants and stores respond as cases of young COVID-19 spread
Familiar acceptance met with weary frustration as Philadelphians reacted to urging from health officials that residents resume wearing masks indoors in public places, even if they are fully vaccinated .
The recommendation came after health officials counted more cases of COVID-19 among children too young to be vaccinated.
Overall rates of COVID-19 cases are rising again in Philadelphia and the region, but remain well below peak levels. By Thursday, the two-week average had risen to 64 cases per day, up from 24 in late June and early July.
Some business owners quickly comply with the suggestion. Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon, owner of Kalaya Thai restaurant in South Philadelphia, said she would ask her employees to put on masks, effective Friday.
It’s a minor annoyance that benefits vulnerable people, says Susan Jacobson, a communications consultant who heads the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, who says she represents area businesses with 600,000 employees.
The group urges members to accept the calculation of the costs and benefits of the mask. “Wearing a mask temporarily is just not a difficult task,” she said. “We can always go back to work and enjoy the benefits of downtown. If we need to take extra precautions that could end up saving lives or preventing a rollback, I’m all for it.
Jabari K. Jones, president of the West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative, feared the new recommendation would delay economic recovery. “Consumers find it safe to go out and shop because the vaccines they’ve taken are enough to protect them from COVID. This new [recommendation]mandate for the vaccinated makes people start to doubt it, ”Jones said. “Ultimately, this could lead to slower sales when businesses need revenue the most.”
The return of the mask guidelines took some by surprise. Many restaurants relaxed their policies for their staff shortly after the city lifted mask requirements several weeks ago; now they are preparing to hide the workers again.
Riccardo Longo, owner of Center City’s Italian restaurant Gran Caffe L’Aquila, said he “strongly considered” reinstating employee masking after he suspended the practice last week.
After 16 months of new laws and changing guidelines, “I don’t know what to think,” Longo added.
William Mignucci, president of Di Bruno Bros. grocery stores, said Friday morning that he was not imposing masks, “yet encouraging employees to do so if they wish.” He said he would think more as more information became available.
In doctors’ offices, masks look like “the new normal, at least for the foreseeable future,” said Andrew Murphy, a doctor and allergist with three offices in the city’s western suburbs.
The “pandemic has played its part in pulling us apart,” and business owners and residents of the Northeast see the return of large public gatherings as a delay, said Roman Zhukov and Roman Krylov, founders of NE Phila. Watchdog group of connected citizens, in an open letter promoting the International Festival of Cultural Exchange, Saturday on the grounds of the American Federal Credit Union.
They present the gathering as an attempt to “bring together” the “extremely diverse” population of the neighborhood, with providers and programs from Eastern Europe, Pan-Asian and Caribbean. Even outdoor events like the festival have been on hold for over a year and are just resuming. A return to full masking and social distancing will make cold weather events even more difficult.
The new policy immediately fueled debate on radio and social media, with some citizens lamenting the uneven cycle of loosening and tightening of mask policy and the dangers of viruses.
“This morning on Big Talker 1210 there were a lot of complaints about conflicting information” recently from city officials, said David Evanson, business consultant at Mount Airy. “I think it comes with the territory. A pandemic is a complicated event, and it evolves rapidly and changes rapidly and there is no playbook. ”
Evanson said he classifies masks with seat belts, stop signs, and the wearing of shoes and shirts in restaurants, all of which are minor inconveniences to avoid the worst. “So yeah, expect some confusion, but let’s try to be together and do our best.”