Pa. Health Secretary says there are no plans for a mask mandate in schools

Coronavirus in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — With the new school year fast approaching, a lot of people from parents and students, to teachers and lawmakers, have questions about how the pandemic will affect students.

A state Senate hearing was held Friday afternoon to answer those questions.

While state officials ask everyone to follow CDC guidance on masks, they still refuse to give any orders.

After a year of mostly virtual learning, most school districts will be back full time in-person.

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“I’ve had very few conversations, if any, with any of our school leaders about the potential of them wanting to use a hybrid,” said Dr. Sherri Smith, acting deputy secretary of the Pa. Department of Education.

The only exception is some parents who are still hesitant about COVID and want to keep their kids virtual.

On the issue of masks, “At this time there is not a plan to mandate the masking requirement in schools because decisions of such magnitude are not made in a pure public health vacuum,” Alison Beam, acting secretary for the Pa. Department of Health, said.

Beam does support CDC guidance for universal masking in K-12 schools.

“We’re not tying funding or the availability of the provision of funding to the decisions being made by schools around their health and safety plan,” Noe Ortega, secretary of the Pa. Department of Education, said.

The only requirement is to have a health and safety plan.

The commonwealth is using federal funding to monitor cases in schools on a voluntary basis.

“It not only provides pooled testing which allows schools to spot early whether or not there’s a student that could potentially be transmitting the virus, but it also has all of the follow-up testing,” Beam said.

Beam says school boards can opt-in or opt-out with no specific timeframe, saying no one will be singled out based on vaccination status and parental consent will be required.

Beam says an estimated 12% of COVID cases in Pennsylvania are in people 18 and younger. There have been 14 deaths of teens aged 15 to 19.

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