Governor Tom Wolf joined the departments of Health, Human Services and Education today to discuss the current state of COVID-19 and a new Secretary of Health order requiring masks to be worn inside K-12 school buildings, early learning programs and child care providers. The order takes effect Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. The governor said he will revisit the mask mandate the first week of October and it’s up to schools to enforce the mandate.
“My office has received an outpouring of messages from parents asking the administration to protect all children by requiring masks in schools,” said Gov. Wolf. “The science is clear. The Delta variant is highly transmissible and dangerous to the unvaccinated, many of whom are children too young to receive the vaccine. Requiring masks in schools will keep our students safer and in the classroom, where we all want them to be.
“I preferred for local school boards to make this decision. Unfortunately, an aggressive nationwide campaign is spreading misinformation about mask-wearing and pressuring and intimidating school districts to reject mask policies that will keep kids safe and in school. As we see cases among children increase in Pennsylvania and throughout the country, this is especially dangerous and challenging as we seek to keep kids in school and maintain a safe and healthy learning environment.”
Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman issued the following statement in reaction to the Governor’s school masking mandate:
“Protecting the health and safety of our children is always a top consideration for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. However, this is exactly the kind of government overreach voters opposed when they stripped Governor Wolf of the authority to unilaterally extend emergency declarations in May.
“Throughout the summer, Governor Wolf and Acting Health Secretary Beam were adamant about allowing these decisions to be made at the local level based on the best available data. It is completely disingenuous for him to flip-flop now when he didn’t like the choices school districts made.”
Republican House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff also criticized the Governor for taking control away from local school districts.
“After months of telling Pennsylvanians that mitigation orders are a thing of the past, the Wolf administration once again went back on its word and issued another ill-advised statewide mandate that deprives Pennsylvania communities of local control and community self-determination in public health decisions”, said Benninghoff.
Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam explained the reason for the school mask mandate and why it wasn’t implemented sooner.
“The reality we are living in now is much different than it was just a month ago,” said Acting Health Secretary Beam. “With case counts increasing, the situation has reached the point that we need to take this action to protect our children, teachers and staff. The science is clear. If we want to keep our schools open, maintain classroom learning and allow sports and other activities to continue, masking significantly increases our chances of doing so.”
The Governor says the Delta variant has been a driving force of the pandemic since the end of the previous school year. The variant is more contagious than the original strain of the virus, accounting for more than 92 percent of current COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania. Since July when schools first began discussing health and safety plans, Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 caseload has increased from less than 300 a day to more than 3,000 a day – with cases among school aged children increasing by more than 11,000 in the last month, and by more than 79,000 from January 2021 to August 2021.
Additionally, new cases of COVID-19 among children enrolled in licensed child care facilities have increased significantly in recent months, according to data reported to DHS by child care providers. For example, on June 4, child care providers reported eight cases of COVID-19 among children in the previous week. On August 27, the number of new COVID-19 cases among children in child care the previous week was 162.
“After months apart, students and educators are eagerly returning to classrooms across Pennsylvania for the new school year,” said Secretary of Education Noe Ortega. “Unfortunately, we’ve already seen schools across the nation close because of COVID-19. Wearing masks is a proven strategy that will help Pennsylvania’s schools reduce the spread of COVID-19, protect their communities, and keep our students and educators where we know it’s vital for them to be – teaching, learning and growing together safely in their classrooms.”
Acting Secretary Beam signed the order under her authority provided by the Disease Prevention and Control Law.
The Order applies to everyone indoors at K-12 public schools including brick and mortar and cyber charter schools, private and parochial schools, career and technical centers (CTCs), and intermediate units (IUs). The order also applies to early learning programs and child care providers for children ages 2 and older, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The order outlines the situations when a mask must be worn and includes limited exceptions to the face-covering requirement. The order does not apply to school sports or outdoor activities.