Philly’s coronavirus response

Do I have to wear a mask or not? Philly’s new COVID mandate, explained

Biz owners can choose between two options for indoor spaces. For big outdoor events, it depends if you’re seated or not.

phillyskyline-april2021-lookingnorth-zoombg
Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital
michaelawinberg-2020-2

💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.


Break out your masks, Philadelphia. In response to steadily rising coronavirus cases, the Department of Public Health has reinstituted a partial citywide mask mandate.

Starting Wednesday at midnight, Philly businesses and institutions have a choice: They can either require all employees and customers to wear masks inside, OR they can require proof of vaccination for all who enter their indoor space. This also applies to city buildings and offices.

“These measures will protect Philadelphians and save lives,” said Mayor Jim Kenney at a Wednesday briefing. “We’ve flattened the curve before and now we must do everything in our power to do it again.”

With 63% of Philadelphians fully vaccinated against COVID, cases and hospitalizations continue to rise. For the last two weeks, more than 5% of coronavirus tests in Philadelphia have come back positive — up from just 0.8% during a low point in June.

The new rules have already generated some confusion among Philly business owners and residents. Here’s a breakdown of the specifics of what you’ll be expected to do to protect the community.

So do I have to wear a mask indoors or not?

You might. Here’s how it works: Philly businesses and institutions have been given a choice between two options.

1) Everyone masks: They can require all customers and employees to wear masks inside. If a business goes with this one, everybody has to wear masks inside the establishment — even if they’re fully vaccinated.

2) Everyone vaxxed: Alternately, a business can require all customers and employees to be fully vaccinated. The businesses that choose this route will be expected to ask patrons to see their vaccination card at the door. People who can’t prove they’re vaccinated won’t be allowed inside. Under this option, because everyone would be vaccinated, no one would have to wear masks on site.

How will I know which option applies?

Businesses and institutions will be expected to make it clear on their exterior whether they’re requiring masks or requiring proof of vaccination, acting Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said — but the city did not outline procedures or mandate specific signage.

There is no option to adopt a hybrid policy, a health department spokesperson said. Operators of indoor spaces have to pick one or the other and stick to it.

Are there any exceptions?

Yes. Bettigole announced an update to this whole policy on Friday morning that includes a new caveat.

Now, essential businesses like grocery stores, pharmacies and doctors offices are required to go with the mask mandate — not the proof of vaccination mandate. This is to ensure that children who are too young to be vaccinated can still enter those spaces (while wearing masks).

So do I still have to wear a mask if I’m vaccinated? 

If you’re entering a business that has chosen to follow the mask mandate, you have to wear a mask — even if you’re fully vaccinated. It would be too hard to keep track otherwise, Bettigole said.

Can’t I just wear a mask inside if I’m not vaxxed?

Not if the business has chosen to require proof of vaccination to enter. If you are not vaccinated, you’re not supposed to be allowed inside. No exceptions.

Does that apply to children too young to get vaccinated?

If a business has chosen to follow the mask mandate, children will be allowed inside and expected to wear masks just like everyone else. This will be required for the essential businesses mentioned above — like grocery stores, pharmacies and doctors offices.

If a business has chosen to require proof of vaccination for entry, people who are not vaccinated will not be allowed to enter. No exceptions — including kids, Health Commissioner Bettigole confirmed.

How do I prove I’ve been vaccinated?

You just have to flash your vaccination card to an employee at the door. A photo of your card should work too, Bettigole said.

So, pro-tip: keep your card on you, and keep it safe. There are plastic sleeves you can buy at Target or CVS. Officials do not recommend laminating it, just in case you need to add booster shots later.

City officials acknowledged there could be fake vaccination cards — but they don’t expect the problem to be widespread. Some counterfeit cards are being sold online for $25 to $475, while the vaccine itself is free.

What if I lost my vaccine card?

Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us, and the health department is streamlining the process to get a replacement.

If you lost your vax card, call 215-685-5488 or email covid@phila.gov, and staff will help verify your address and info, and then work with you to get a new card.

What if I’m eating at a restaurant?

If you’re dining at a restaurant that’s following the mask mandate, you have to wear a mask unless you’re actively eating or drinking. At that point, you can take the mask off. All employees will need to be masked up.

If you’re at a restaurant that requires proof of vaccination, you will need to show your vaccination card. You won’t have to wear a mask.

What if I’m outside?

Under the new restrictions, events with more than 1,000 people that don’t have seats will require masks. Otherwise, you don’t have to wear a mask outside.

That one’s weirdly specific, yeah. That’s on purpose. Bettigole said. It’s basically intended to prevent the spread of coronavirus at large, outdoor concerts with mosh pits or tightly-packed crowds.

Will I have to wear a mask at Phillies and Eagles games?

Since sports games are seated events, they don’t fall under the new outdoor mask requirement for 1,000-plus person gatherings.

The Eagles on Wednesday clarified the policy at the Linc: You’ll have to wear a mask when you’re indoors — like when you’re buying food or using the bathroom. Fans won’t be required to wear masks while sitting outdoors, but the Eagles strongly recommend unvaccinated people do.

Similar news from the Phillies. When you’re indoors at Citizens Bank Park, you’ll have to wear a mask — unless you’re actively eating or drinking.

What about outdoor events, like the Broad Street Run or Made in America?

Made in America organizers announced on Thursday that concert-goers will need to wear a mask AND show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to get in.

City officials say they’re still working out the logistics for other big events. Stay tuned.

Will city employees be required to get the vaccine?

Starting on Sept. 1, all newly hired city employees will be required to be fully vaccinated.

City employees hired before that date must be either fully vaccinated, or double-masked while they’re working. Bettigole demonstrated the double-masking technique, by layering first a surgical mask underneath and then a cloth mask on top.

Bettigole recommended all Philadelphians who aren’t vaccinated to double-mask.

Will there be another stay-at-home order?

“Not if everybody acts like a mature adult,” Kenney said.

Translation: That’s unclear, for now. City officials hope that these restrictions will help encourage more people to get vaccinated and lower COVID case counts, which would ideally prevent the need for more intense restrictions later.

How do I get vaccinated?

Visit Philly’s vaccination directory to find a clinic near you.

Want some more? Explore other Philly’s coronavirus response stories.

Mornings in the know

Sign up for Billy Penn’s free morning newsletter for a daily roundup of Philadelphia’s most pressing news, top interesting stories, fun tidbits, and relevant events.

Thanks for reading another Billy Penn article!

We don’t have a paywall, and never will. Instead, we depend on readers like you to keep our newsroom jamming on stories about Philadelphia. If you like what you see, will you support our work?

Thanks for reading a Billy Penn story

We don’t have a paywall, and our daily newsletter is free. Instead, YOU are key to keeping our nonprofit newsroom running strong. If you like what you see, will you join as a member today?

This story was powered by readers

Readers like you make articles like this possible, so thanks for your support. Want to make sure we stick around? Become a sustainer with a recurring contribution!

Tell a friend about Billy Penn

Thanks for reading another article — and we’re grateful for your support! Want to help a friend start their day with Billy Penn? Send them to our newsletter signup page.