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Philadelphia becomes first big U.S. city to reinstate face masks, as U.S. daily COVID cases climb 10% from two weeks ago

Philadelphia has become the first big U.S. city to reinstate its indoor face-mask mandate after COVID-19 cases rose more than 50% in 10 days, which the health commissioner, Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, said is the threshold for the city’s guidelines on the matter.

Health inspectors will start to enforce the mask mandate at businesses starting April 18, the Associated Press reported. 

The city is reporting more than 140 cases a day, a fraction of what it saw at the height of the omicron surge, and hospitalizations remain low. But Bettigole said the recent increase in infections indicates the city might be at the beginning of a new wave, and city officials are seeking to stay ahead of it by requiring indoor masking.

The U.S. is averaging 32,139 cases a day, according to a New York Times tracker, up 10% from two weeks ago, as the highly infectious BA.2 subvariant of omicron spreads. 

Some 28 states are currently seeing case numbers climb, and some are seeing steep surges. In Rhode Island, for example, case are up 94% from two weeks ago; in Kansas they are up 81%; in Maryland they are up 77%; and in Oregon they are up 70%.

And while hospitalizations — and daily deaths — are still declining, experts are urging Americans to do their best to avoid contracting COVID. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said over the weekend that the virus can still cause significant illness and lead to long COVID, whose ramifications are largely unknown.

For more, see: Fauci warns: Don’t ‘pooh-pooh’ COVID because of low hospitalizations, as new daily cases and deaths extend increases

As BA.2 spreads, a number of universities are also reinstating face-mask mandates, as the New York Times reported. American University in Washington, for example, said Monday it would require masks in all campus buildings as it works to stave off a surge in cases.

Columbia University in New York said on Sunday that students would require noncloth masks in classrooms for the rest of the spring semester through May 2, and Georgetown University in the District of Columbia made a similar move last week.

Other insitutions to resume mask wearing include Johns Hopkins and Rice University.

Coronavirus Update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• The U.S. has ordered nonemergency government staff to leave Shanghai, which is under a tight lockdown to contain a COVID-19 surge, the AP reported. Many residents of the city of more than 24 million have been confined to their homes for up to three weeks — and the strains are starting to show. Footage has emerged of people screaming from their balconies in frustration, and there were reports from the weekend of individuals storming a supermarket and stealing food.

• In a separate report from the AP, some residents of Shanghai were being allowed out of their homes, but they must remain in their own neighborhoods. A health official warned Shanghai doesn’t have the coronavirus under control despite easing restrictions. “The epidemic is in a period of rapid growth,” said Lei Zhenglong of the National Health Commission at a news conference. “Community transmission has not been effectively contained.”

• U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak will be issued fines for breaching COVID regulations following allegations of lockdown parties at government offices, the AP reported. London’s Metropolitan Police force said it was issuing 30 more fixed-penalty notices in relation to the “partygate” scandal, which has angered many in Britain and seen dozens of politicians and officials investigated over allegations that the government flouted its own pandemic restrictions. It was not clear how much Johnson and Sunak were being fined.

The new BA.2 Omicron variant has public health experts worried about potential new Covid-19 surges. WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez explains what you need to know about this new, more transmissible Covid variant. Illustration by: Adele Morgan

• The risk of developing inflammatory heart conditions after COVID-19 vaccination is relatively low, two large studies found, especially when compared with the heart-related risks from COVID-19 disease itself and from vaccines against other diseases, the Wall Street Journal reported. One study, an analysis of 22 previous studies, found that the risk of the conditions including myocarditis in people who received a COVID-19 vaccine wasn’t significantly different from that for non-COVID-19 vaccines such as those against flu, polio and measles. Another analysis published April 1 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the risk of cardiac complications including myocarditis, an inflammation of heart muscle, was higher in people after COVID-19 infections than after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

• Australia is expected to suffer a worse flu season this year than during the initial pandemic southern-hemisphere winters, when closed borders and other public health measures kept the illness in check, the Guardian reported. Now experts are warning against complacency as data show there have been 598 flu cases in 2022 through April 6, equal to all of those recorded in 2021.

See: CDC, stung by criticism of its handling of the pandemic, announces review and revamp

Here’s what the numbers say

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 499.7 million on Tuesday, while the death toll rose above 6.18 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 80.4 million cases and more than 985,826 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 218.4 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 65.8% of the population. But just 98.8 million are boosted, equal to 45.2% of the vaccinated population.

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