HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Pennsylvania has reversed course Tuesday, issuing a mask mandate for K-12 schools, according to officials briefed on the matter.

According to the announcement made by the Pa. Department of Health, the order will take effect Tuesday, Sept. 7, a day after Labor Day, and will require students, teachers, and staff to wear masks when inside. The order will remain in effect until otherwise terminated.

“My office has received an outpouring of messages from parents asking the administration to protect all children by masking in schools,” Gov. Wolf said. “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.”

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The mask mandate will apply to the following types of school entities:

  • Public PreK-12 school
  • A brick and mortar or cyber charter school
  • A private or parochial school
  • A career and technical center (CTC)
  • An intermediate unit (IU)
  • A Pa. Pre-K Counts program, Head Start Program, Preschool Early Intervention program, or Family Center
  • A private academic nursery school and locally-funded prekindergarten activities
  • A child care provider licensed by the Department of Human Services of the Commonwealth

General masking requirements:

Each teacher, child/student, staff, or visitor working, attending, or visiting a school entity shall wear a face-covering indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Any except are listed below (as set forth in Section 3).

Exceptions to covering requirement:

The following are exceptions to the face-covering requirements above (in Section 2 of the order). All alternatives to a face covering, including the use of a face shield, should be exhausted before an individual is excepted from the order.

  • If wearing a face covering while working would create an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.
  • If wearing a face covering would either cause a medical condition, or exacerbate an existing one, including respiratory issues that impede breathing, a mental health condition or a disability.
  • When necessary to confirm the individual’s identity.
  • When working alone and isolated from interaction with other people with little or no expectation of in-person interaction.
  • If an individual is communicating or seeking to communicate with someone who is hearing-impaired or has another disability, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
  • When the individual is under two (2) years of age.
  • When an individual is:
    • Engaged in an activity that cannot be performed while wearing a mask, such as eating and drinking, or playing an instrument that would be obstructed by the face covering; or
    • Participating in high intensity aerobic or anerobic activities, including during a physical education class in a well-ventilated location and able to maintain a physical distance of six feet from all other individuals.
  • When a child/student is participating in a sports practice activity or event, whether indoors or outdoors.

Less than a month ago, Governor Wolf had ruled out the possibility for a statewide mask mandate for schools after requiring them last year. But the highly contagious delta variant has changed the administration’s calculus about what is needed to keep students in class.

Pennsylvania’s two statewide teachers unions had urged K-12 schools to require masks in school buildings, citing delta’s threat. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommended masks in schools for students, staff and teachers.

The press conference comes a day after the Commonwealth reported more than 9,000 new positive COVID-19 cases over a three-day period.

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