Mask mandate issued for Pa. K-12 schools, child care

Coronavirus

Masks will now be required for all K-12 schools and child care settings throughout the Commonwealth.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, along with the departments of Health, Human Services and Education, made the announcement Tuesday during a news conference.

The masking order will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 7.

The new Secretary of Health order will require masks to be worn inside K-12 school buildings, early learning programs and child care providers.

“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.” 

Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam was joined at Tuesday’s news conference by Governor Tom Wolf, Education Secretary Noe Ortega, Human Services Acting Secretary Meg Snead and President of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics Dr. Trude Haecker.  

“The reality we are living in now is much different than it was just a month ago,” said Acting Health Secretary Alison 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend universal masking in schools as it reduces the risk that entire classrooms will need to quarantine due to a positive COVID-19 case.

The Delta variant is more contagious than the original strain of the virus, making up more than 92 percent of current COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania.

Since July, 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.   

Also, 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. On June 4, child care providers reported eight cases of COVID-19 among children for the previous week. On August 27, the number of new COVID-19 cases among children in child care for the previous week was 162. 

Currently in Pennsylvania, 18.2% of children ages 12-14 are fully vaccinated and 38.3% of children ages 15-19 are fully vaccinated. 

“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.” 

“An early childhood education experience can shape a child’s educational, social and emotional development throughout their lives. Science has shown us that the first five years of life are critical to brain development, influencing the trajectory of an individual’s life for many years after,” DHS Acting Secretary Meg Snead said. “A thriving child care industry is also foundational to the rest of our economy, and this industry and the dedicated educators who show up every day to help our children grow will be essential for our recovery from this pandemic. Simply put, without access to safe child care and early learning programs, many parents cannot work.” 

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 does not apply to school sports or outdoor activities. 

The Pennsylvania State Education Association released a statement following the masking mandate announcement.

PSEA President Rich Askey issued the following statement:

“PSEA supports the Wolf administration’s order today requiring universal masking in all K-12 school buildings. 

Months ago, PSEA said a full, safe return to in-person instruction should be our top priority for the 2021-22 school year. Masking up in our schools is a simple, proven way to help make that a reality.

Last year, we used maximum protective efforts – including masking – to minimize the spread of a dangerous but less contagious COVID-19 variant. Reports of schools in other states shutting down or quarantining large numbers of students because of the more contagious Delta variant show that it is just too risky to teach students in person with dramatically fewer protections than we used last year.

This isn’t a choice between masking or not masking. It is a choice between keeping schools open for in-person learning or forcing far too many students to learn from the other side of a screen. 

Making sure that our schools can safely begin the school year in person, continue in person, and end in person continues to be PSEA’s top priority. We know that is the best learning environment for Pennsylvania’s students. That’s why it is so important to follow CDC guidance and put universal masking policies in place as students return to school. 

Universal masking in schools will reduce serious health risks for students, staff, and their families, help keep students in the classroom, and significantly reduce unnecessary interruptions to in-person learning.”

Click here for more information on the Secretary of Health’s masking order.  

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