No vaccine mandate for teachers, no exemptions for masks Pa. Health Secretary says

Pennsylvania Politics

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — School is in session but in the first month, coronavirus has also enrolled. On Thursday, the Secretaries of Education and Health gave us an update on the start of the school year.

“67 of 67 counties in the commonwealth right now are at high or substantial transmission,” Acting Secretary of Health, Alison Beam said. But kids are in school, in person. “Kids are excited to be back in the classroom learning and growing along with their classmates, something they’ve been asking for some time now,” Secretary of Education, Noe Ortega said.

But they are transmitting the virus. This week last year, there were 745 cases among school-age kids in Pa. This year, it’s 7,357 and counting. So might the state mandate vaccines for teachers and eligible students?

“At this time, there is not a contemplation of requiring the vaccination within our educator population and we’re really focused on having our students be able to access it not mandate it at this point,” Secretary Beam said.

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Schools can offer testing and vaccines and the feds would pay for it but a relative few are actually participating. But they must mandate masks. Beam had this to say to schools letting parents sign a form to exempt their kids without doctor sign-off.

“There are enumerated exemptions within the masking order for reasons why people aren’t wearing a mask in school but just having a parent’s frustration with the order is not one of them,” Secretary Beam said.

But schools are frustrated with her department. Saying it’s not responding to specific questions about what to do with sick kids and specific situations. Beam says they’re working on it.

“We’re gonna continue and refine that and hopefully be more communicative with schools moving forward,” Secretary Beam said.

Beam also says just 21% of 12-14-year-olds have gotten vaccinated. She says her department needs to do a better job educating parents on its efficacy and she hopes a vaccine for 5 to 11-year-olds arrives by November.

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