Multiple businesses and residents in Philadelphia have filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania state court seeking to overturn the city’s renewed indoor masking mandate for COVID-19.
Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole announced on April 11 that the city would reinstate indoor masking on April 18 in an effort to stem a surge of infections, after previously ending the mask mandate on March 2.
The temporary emergency order comes amid a more than 50 percent rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the city compared to the previous 10 days, officials said.
The lawsuit, filed in Commonwealth Court on April 16, states that Philadelphia lacks the authority to impose such a mandate and accuses city health officials of having “usurped the power and authority” of state lawmakers, the state Department of Health, and the state advisory health board.
The restaurant industry, which opposes the renewed mandate, believes that employees will suffer amid anger from customers regarding the new rules.
Attorney Thomas W. King III, who was among the individuals who successfully challenged the statewide mask mandate in Philadelphia schools last year, said the emergency order contradicts the recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and “imposed a renegade standard unfound anywhere else in the world.”
The CDC only recommends masking for individuals displaying symptoms, those who have a positive test result, or those who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.
“Philadelphia actually did away with the CDC guidelines as the standard, and they’ve invented their own guidelines,” King told CBS3 Eyewitness News. “They’re making this stuff up. I want to see the state Commonwealth Court strike down this mandate as a violation of Pennsylvania law.
“We have people here who have saved all their lives to run restaurants, open gyms, chiropractic services, and other businesses in Philadelphia. What they’re telling me is that when these mask mandates are in place and people have to wear masks indoors, that they lose a substantial amount of their business.”
The lawsuit comes as the majority of states and cities across the United States have done away with masking requirements following new guidelines from the CDC, which emphasize mask-wearing only in areas where hospitals are under high strain from COVID-19 cases.
In announcing the renewed masking mandate on April 11, Bettigole said the Omicron virus variant wave of COVID-19 has claimed the lives of nearly 750 people in the city in three months.
“I suspect that this wave will be smaller than what we saw in January, but if we wait to find out and put our masks back on, we’ll have lost our chance to stop the wave,” Bettigole said.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kathy Barnette opposes the renewed mandate, saying that Democrats should “take their own advice and start following the science.”
“I’m traveling over 1,500 miles a day. I’m spending more time with the voters in Pennsylvania than any other candidate and I can tell you that people feel squeezed. People feel very unnerved about the direction our country is headed. Most know that something fundamentally has gone wrong in how our country is being run right now,” Barnette told The Epoch Times.
She said that even Dr. Anthony Fauci has admitted the virus won’t be eradicated and that everyone must learn to live with some degree of risk.
“In other words, Americans should continue their lives as usual and take the necessary precautions to stay healthy,” Barnette said. “What Democrat leaders in Philadelphia are doing is draconian, an abuse of power, and absolutely unnecessary.”
Kevin Lessard, a spokesman for the Philadelphia mayor’s office, said officials are “unable to comment on this particular case.”
However, Lessard cited a court’s denial of an emergency motion by another plaintiff for a preliminary injunction against the mandate, noting that “the courts once again confirmed that the city has both the legal authority and requisite flexibility to enact the precautionary measures necessary to control the spread of COVID-19.”
Beth Brelje and The Associated Press contributed to this report.