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Philadelphia Health Care Workers, College Students Must Get The Vaccine

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Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Philadelphia health care workers, college students and higher education employees will be required to be vaccinated by mid-October under new mandates announced by the city's Public Health Department Friday.

The mandates were passed Thursday night by the Board of Health, which provides guidance to the city's health department, said acting Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole. She said both categories of people will be required to be vaccinated by Oct. 15, but exemptions will be allowed for religious or medical reasons with added precautions or accommodations for those people.

Health care workers with an exemption will be required to wear masks and undergo a COVID-19 test twice a week.

At colleges, those with exemptions will have to have a PCR test weekly or two antigen tests weekly. Once a college reaches a 90% vaccination rate, Bettigole said those people with exemptions can double-mask and social distance in indoor spaces, or colleges can offer virtual options as an accommodation.

City public health officials also made adjustments to mask mandates announced earlier this week in an effort to accommodate parents with young children not yet eligible for the vaccine. The city had given the option to most indoor establishments of either choosing to require proof of vaccination for entry or to require masks.

Parents with young children had raised concerns about some spaces opting for vaccine requirements, making trips to pick up dinner or run to the grocery store hard for parents with children not yet eligible for a vaccine.

Bettigole said certain businesses deemed essential, such as grocery stores, urgent care centers and pharmacies, will not be allowed to require vaccines for entry. Those establishments will have to require masks instead.

“That way parents do not have to worry that they’ll be unable to stop by the grocery store with their children,” she said during a news conference Friday.

Many of the cities large hospitals, health care networks and universities previously had announced vaccination mandates of some kind including for new employees, or some with longer deadlines to get students vaccinated.

Bettigole said with students coming from places around the country to attend university, including areas with much higher transmission and positivity rates, and with college-aged people experiencing some of the highest positivity rates right now, the mandate was necessary to prevent spread in the city.

The mandate includes a broad definition of health care workers. Bettigole said it includes anyone who works in a health care institution or comes into contact with patients — school nurses and home health aides, for example. It does not apply to pharmacy workers, she said.

A mask mandate for indoor spaces went into effect Thursday in the city. Some businesses including restaurants and gyms can opt to require proof that all employees and patrons are vaccinated instead of requiring masks be worn. But city officials said the choice is either to require everyone be vaccinated or everyone where masks.

The mandates also require masks at outdoor events without assigned seating and with more than 1,000 people in attendance. A vaccine mandate was also issued for all new city hires. Unvaccinated current employees must wear double masks — a paper mask under a cloth mask — while working indoors with others.

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