Credit: Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

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Starting Wednesday, Philadelphia will drop most of the COVID restrictions that have been in effect for the past 15 months, returning the city to the closest it’s been “normal” since March 2020.

As of June 2, the only “Safer-at-Home” restrictions still in effect will be the indoor mask mandate and the 11 p.m. “last call” for bars and restaurants. The health department previously said these changes would happen on June 11, but officials said on Friday that COVID rates are so low, they decided to move up the date.

“These are encouraging signs that vaccination is truly turning the tide in Philadelphia,” acting Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said, in a statement released just before city offices closed for the Memorial Day weekend.

The average daily count of new COVID cases and the positivity rate are equal to the lowest they’ve been since the start of the pandemic, according to city data. Also relevant: these stats are alsod dropping elsewhere in the region and across the country.

Philadelphia hasn’t seen numbers this low since September of last year — when the dip didn’t last.

This time around, there’s a vaccine.

More than 35% of the city’s population is currently vaccinated against COVID, according to the CDC, including more than two-fifth of residents over the age of 12 and nearly 65% of people over 65.

“We still have work to do to reach all Philadelphians,” Bettigole said, “but we also want people to celebrate the good parts of life that we get back by getting vaccinated.”

What will happen starting June 2? Among the changes:

  • Restaurants, bars and casinos won’t have any capacity restrictions (they are currently limited to 50%, or 75% if they meet increased ventilation standards)
  • Sports arenas also won’t have any limits, which means the Wells Fargo Center can welcome a full house to future Sixers playoff games
  • Gyms and indoor pools can operate at full capacity
  • Catered events and gatherings don’t have to worry about attendance limits

Retail stores, museums, offices, and other interior spaces are already allowed to operate without density restrictions, thanks to a relaxation that went into effect last month.

While masks will still be required indoors, there’s a chance that rule could also soon disappear. According to Friday’s statement, if things continue trending in the right direction, the mask mandate and the 11 p.m. last call for restaurants could be dropped on June 11.

Danya Henninger is director of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the...