Gov. Wolf Imposes Statewide Mask Mandate for K-12 Schools

All public and private schools, as well as childcare facilities, will require masks after Labor Day.
Masks

PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK

As students around Pennsylvania prepared for a return to school amid rising COVID-19 cases, a fierce debate erupted in multiple districts over whether or not masks should be required for students and staff. On Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf put an end to those debates once and for all; effective Sept. 7, the day after Labor Day, masking mandates will be enforced in all Pennsylvania K-12 schools. 

Wolf announced at a press conference that all students, teachers and faculty members will be required to wear masks while indoors at any public or private school or a childcare facility, whether they’re vaccinated or not. The order does not apply to outdoor school activities.

The decision comes after Republican leaders of the House and Senate rejected Gov. Wolf’s request to enact legislation requiring masks in schools, insisting that local leaders were better poised to make decisions on a smaller scale. Less than a month ago, Gov. Wolf had ruled out a statewide mask mandate entirely. But amid rising concern of the more contagious and virulent delta variant, which has infected more children than previous strains of the virus, the administration is reversing course as cases soar and hospitals fill to capacity once again.

“While the majority of children can’t be vaccinated yet, we know that there are other reliable ways to protect them — those who can’t be vaccinated — from the spread of the disease, including wearing masks indoors. Wearing a mask indoors is necessary to keep our children in the classroom and to keep COVID out of that classroom,” Wolf says.

Before the mandate, the state’s approximately 500 school districts were strongly divided on the issue of masks, encompassing a wide range of opinions on a deeply politicized issue that has persisted through a presidential election and nearly two years of life under the thumb of this pandemic.

Many districts already required masks in all campus buildings and on school transport, regardless of vaccination status. Other districts, while not requiring face coverings, strongly recommended them, especially among the unvaccinated and children under 12 who are not yet eligible for shots. Others required them on school buses but not in school buildings, or only required them for the unvaccinated, or for those who couldn’t keep a safe social distance. Yet many didn’t require masks at all.

Even in districts where masks were required, parents protested the policies, and school board meetings have become a theater for discourse surrounding the masking debate. Some parents had gone as far as to disrupt a North Allegheny School Board meeting and even one insisted that taking Ivermectin, a drug mostly used to deworm horses, could protect against the coronavirus with greater efficacy than masks and vaccines. 

Ivermectin is not an antiviral drug, meaning it cannot treat viruses like COVID-19, and the FDA has warned that the drug is not an effective treatment and can be very dangerous or even lethal when it’s taken this way.

Gov. Wolf stressed the importance of creating a safe, in-person learning environment for students, who have been displaced and forced to learn from home for the last 18 months.

“We need our students to be in the classroom. We’ve all seen stories across the nation of students in school for a matter of days and then who are forced to quarantine for weeks because of a COVID exposure,” he says. “We deserve better than that. Teachers deserve a place to teach. Students deserve a place to learn. All of us deserve classrooms that are willing and able to keep our students and teachers safe.”

According to the CDC, COVID-19 spreads mainly through respiratory droplets, which properly fitting masks can effectively prevent from reaching others. Studies have also shown that widespread mask wearing led to a slowdown in daily COVID-19 cases in states where masking was enforced, and that countries with cultural norms or government policies favoring mask-wearing had lower coronavirus-affiliated death rates than those which did not. 

In the last 24 hours, the Allegheny County Health Department has reported 263 new cases and no new deaths. Of these new cases, 161 are confirmed and 102 are probable. Since March 14, 2020, the county has had 109,797 COVID-19 cases, 7,647 hospitalizations and 2,060 deaths. The Pennsylvania Department of Health has reported 1,300,368 COVID-19 cases and 28,214 deaths to date.

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