Pennsylvania schools, both public and private, are requiring masks as students return to class.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health issued an order to take place on Tuesday, September 7th, which requires everyone on school grounds–students and staff, vaccinated and unvaccinated–to wear masks when inside. The mandate, which is going into effect a week after the official start of school, became necessary after most of the state’s 500 school districts declined to issue their own mask mandates.
“It’s crucial for students and staff to wear masks in school. This is a necessary step to keep our students and teachers safe and in the classroom, where they all need to be and where we want them all to be,” said Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf in a press conference.
Over 5,000 minors in Pennsylvania schools tested positive for COVID-19 after the start of the academic year in mid-August. The state is averaging over 3,200 new infections daily, more than 20 times the rate it was seeing in July. The death rate doubled between those times.
Exceptions to the mandate are limited.
“A mask doesn’t have to be worn if it would cause or worsen a medical condition, or if it would make a task unsafe. Student-athletes don’t have to wear one while they’re playing,” according to the Associated Press‘s reporting on the matter.
The mandate for Pennsylvania schools was supposed to come from the legislature, but it passed on making a ruling despite a direct request from the governor. The Department of Health has the authority to issue such a mandate and expect it to be enforced under the Disease Prevention and Control Law of 1955, which was put into place after a polio outbreak that ravaged schools in the state. Schools that do not enforce the mandate could face legal liability when students and their families are harmed by their inaction.