Philadelphia hit with lawsuit after becoming first major US city to reinstate mask mandate

As the city of Philadelphia reinstates its indoor mask mandate on Monday, a lawsuit filed by a group comprised of local businesses and residents alleges the city’s “businesses will once again be under” a “self-invented authoritarian control.”

Filed Saturday in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania against the health commissioner and mayor of Philadelphia, Dr. Cheryl Bettigole and James Kenney respectively, along with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH) and the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s acting secretary Alison Beam, the suit seeks to overturn the mandate due, in part, to overreach and the negative ramifications it has on local businesses.

Thomas W. King III, one of the attorneys representing the petitioners who had successfully challenged Pennsylvania’s statewide school mask mandates last year, told CBS 3 that the “renegade standard” imposed in the city was a violation of law.

“Philadelphia actually did away with the CDC guidelines as the standard and they’ve invented their own guidelines. They’re making this stuff up. I want to see the state commonwealth court strike down this mandate as a violation of Pennsylvania law.”

The suit alleges that in “a breathtaking Declaration…” Bettigole “…usurped the power and authority of the General Assembly, Pennsylvania Department of Health, and the State Advisory Health Board.”

“Not only are the ‘current metrics,'” admittedly cautious by Bettigole, “‘not set in stone,’ they are not set in Pennsylvania law and violate the statutory and regulatory scheme set forth in Pennsylvania for the Department of Health, including the State Advisory Health Board,” the petitioners’ suit went on.

“We have people here who have saved all their lives to run restaurants, open gyms, chiropractic services and other businesses in Philadelphia,” King argued to CBS3. “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.”

As was common throughout the pandemic, the updated guidance from city officials belied its own urgency as the implementation was provided with a week’s notice.

That didn’t stop Bettigole from using sensationalist language when she addressed the dire cause for action, saying, “If we fail to act now, knowing that every previous wave of infections has been followed by a wave of hospitalizations, and then a wave of deaths, it will be too late for many of our residents.”

“This is our chance to get ahead of the pandemic, to put our masks on until we have more information about the severity of this new variant,” she added after the announcement.

The mayor’s office claimed they were “unable to comment on this particular case,” according to communications director Kevin Lessard. He, instead, danced around the topic by noting the court’s denial for preliminary injunction by another plaintiff, stating, “the courts once again confirmed that city [sic] has both the legal authority and requisite flexibility to enact the precautionary measures necessary to control the spread of COVID-19.”

A 6-0 decision by the state Supreme Court in December found that health officials have broad authority on matters of public health, but they are not permitted “to act by whim or fiat in all matters concerning disease.”


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