New COVID-19 cases lowest since March due to raised mask use

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia health officials say new COVID-19 infections fell to an average of 67 a day, as of last week — the lowest number since the first week of the pandemic in March. Deaths have also fallen to about one a day. 

Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley credits this progress to more people complying with mask orders.

“I believe a lot of the progress we’ve made in this epidemic is because people are wearing masks,” he said, “so if you’ve been wearing a mask at all, thank you.”

A new study, however, suggests Philadelphians could be doing much better with that.

The Philadelphia Study of Mask Adherence and Distancing (SOMAD), led by academic and private researchers, observed more than 4,600 people in public outdoor spaces over the last three weeks of August, including commercial streets, parks and playgrounds. 

It found less than half — approximately 43% — were wearing masks, and even fewer were wearing them correctly.

The SOMAD research is similar to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s own surveys on mask use, though the study is based more on demographics.

“Younger people were less likely to wear masks than older people, and men were less likely to wear masks than women,” Farley said. “They found differences by neighborhood across the city, and they found differences by ethnicity of the person they observed.”

According to the SOMAD study, men wore masks less than women, and seniors were more likely to wear them compared to all other age groups.

Only 23% of people in parks who were engaged in vigorous activity, like biking or running, were wearing masks.

On the matter of proper mask use, the city is launching a new facet of its mask campaign focusing on using the right kind of masks — bandanas, masks with valves, and pulled-up T-shirts no longer cut it. 

The correct fit is important too — over the nose and mouth.

“Don’t pull your mask down to talk to the person next to you. When you’re talking to the person next to you is when you’re most putting out water droplets,” Farley explained. “That’s the most important time to have a mask on.”