That was fast: the now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t, now-you-do masquerade in Philadelphia.

Let’s review. On March 2, Philly, recovering from Covid hysteria, rescinded its indoor-mask mandate — masks off. On April 18, the city, alone among large American municipalities, rescinded its rescission — masks on (unless everyone working on-site and coming through the door was fully vaxxed). On April 21, the city rescinded its rescission of its rescission — masks off, for now.

This latest experiment in masking left Cheryl Bettigole, the city’s health commissioner, explaining that Philly was only trying to “follow the data.” It fell to Jim...

That was fast: the now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t, now-you-do masquerade in Philadelphia.

Let’s review. On March 2, Philly, recovering from Covid hysteria, rescinded its indoor-mask mandate — masks off. On April 18, the city, alone among large American municipalities, rescinded its rescission — masks on (unless everyone working on-site and coming through the door was fully vaxxed). On April 21, the city rescinded its rescission of its rescission — masks off, for now.

This latest experiment in masking left Cheryl Bettigole, the city’s health commissioner, explaining that Philly was only trying to “follow the data.” It fell to Jim Kenney, the mayor and a veteran pol, to call a debacle a debacle: “Clearly this has become such a huge issue, such a political issue, it was hard to get people to do it (to mask).”

City Hall came down with its case of Covid nerves just as other authorities were progressing towards letting people show their faces. On April 18, the very day the masking order took effect, a federal judge in Florida struck down the national mandate for airlines and other transportation, instantly prompting videos of midair hurrahs that went viral. Could flight-bound passengers at Philadelphia International now drop their masks upon boarding? Or only after take-off?

Hours later, the regional transportation agency serving Philly lifted its own mask mandate. How was that to work? Were commuters from the suburbs to breathe free on the way to the office only until their train crossed the city line?

A group of residents and businesses had already sued, noting that the re-imposed mandate had been triggered by a newly devised disease-assessment metric all the city’s own, a novel combination of infection and admission trends.

From the outset, the mandate smacked of Zero-Covid tactics that in, say, spring of 2020 might have seemed worth a hope and a prayer. But who today except a few diehards in public-health bureaucracies and a diminished number of fantasists on social media would still venture that eradicating Covid is anything but a delusion? Events in Shanghai right now are showing how badly absolutist Zero-Covid policy plays out in the end.

The stated goal in Philly, in fairness, had been to “get ahead of the pandemic” and keep hospital admissions manageable by reducing infections. Given the abrupt end of the mandate, it’s hard to say whether the city could have outrun the virus over a longer term. An earlier acceleration in confirmed infections did slow, and for a couple days hospital admissions turned down, though on the day the mandate was pronounced dead, they ticked up again.

Hospitals themselves had not been forecasting Covid pressures. The citywide hospitalization counts, restrained to double digits in the recent past, were being reported in a metropolis of 1.6 million residents. Those counts, moreover, didn’t distinguish between people entering hospitals for reason of Covid infection as distinct from the number whose infections were merely incidental to their need for hospital care. Nor could the extent of infection in the community be clear, given that ever more people were resorting to at-home testing. A population of unknown size was getting past its Covid symptoms, if any, and gaining some measure of acquired immunity without presenting itself to the medical system.

But let’s delve no further into a statistical muddle. The hospitals are still fine. The knock-off variant of Omicron still seems relatively mild. The new Philly metric has been scrapped.

There was a time when special deference was due public-health officials trying to manage amid the vagaries of a new type of contagion. But today a broad edict constraining everyday life effectively refuses to send deference the other way — back to a public that has long been ready to assess and manage its risks, to get back to normal, old normal.

As of now, Philly is giving up on edicts, albeit with with a little nannying. Dr. Bettigole: “This is not a time when we should say ‘whoo-hoo’ and throw our masks off and go to parties.”

But, oh, let’s do! The end of a masking fiasco is something to celebrate. If you like, mask up for the party in leather or velvet or porcelain, as Venetians do during Carnival. No? Then Spider-Man? Devil Dinosaur? Okay, then: a cloth mask, under an N95, under a visor. Your choice.

Another choice is to let everybody see your face.