Lawsuit Challenges Philadelphia’s Renewed Mask Mandate

A group of businesses and private citizens have joined to file a new lawsuit in Pennsylvania state court requesting an order overturning the City of Philadelphia’s renewed indoor mask mandate that went into effect this week. The complaint in the case argues that the city lacks the legal authority to impose the mandate.

Philadelphia previously ended its prior mask mandate on March 2. It was the first major city to reimpose an indoor mask mandate after having lifted the rule when a sharp increase in COVID-19 infections was reported.

The city’s top health official, Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, told city lawmakers that she wanted to address the risk of a new wave that could be caused by an omicron subvariant of the virus. She said there had been a greater than 50 percent increase in confirmed cases in 10 days, which is the threshold triggering her recommendation for indoor masking.

Bettigole claimed that if the city fails to act now “it will be too late for many of our residents.”

Attorney Thomas W. King III stated the new emergency health order is contrary to guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and imposes a “renegade standard” not found anywhere else. King was one of the lawyers who successfully challenged the statewide Pennsylvania school mask mandate last year.

The new case alleges that the city has “usurped the power and authority” of the state legislature as well as the state health department and advisory health board. Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case are expected to ask the court for an emergency order to suspend the renewed mask mandate.

The Philadelphia mayor’s office said city officials are unable to comment on “this particular case” but said another lawsuit had already failed to obtain an injunction against the mandate.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled last December that the governor has no legal authority to order a mask mandate in the state’s public schools or child care providers. The court cited the state legislature’s termination of an emergency disaster declaration in finding the governor’s power had been removed in that regard.

The city’s renewed mask mandate has already been overruled in part, due to a ruling by a federal judge in Florida striking down the national mask mandate covering public transportation. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) provides public transportation in the Philadelphia metropolitan area and announced Monday evening that masking in its “vehicles, stations, and concourses” is no longer required as a result of the ruling but is recommended.