Pennsylvania’s governor announces a mask requirement for schools.

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U.S.|Pennsylvania’s governor announces a mask requirement for schools.

Masks will be required for teachers, staff and visitors in all public and private schools and child care centers in Pennsylvania beginning Sept. 7.
Credit...Hannah Beier/Reuters

Daniel E. Slotnik

  • Aug. 31, 2021, 5:22 p.m. ET

Pennsylvania’s governor said on Tuesday his administration was imposing a statewide mask requirement in all schools, becoming the latest governor to embrace a politically charged but federally recommended precaution.

Masks will be required for teachers, staff and visitors in public and private schools, early learning programs and child care centers in Pennsylvania beginning Sept. 7. The mandate was imposed by order of the state’s acting secretary of health, Alison Beam, who appeared at a news conference with Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat.

“Wearing a mask in school is necessary to keep our children in the classroom, and to keep Covid out,” Mr. Wolf said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended masking for everyone inside a school, regardless of vaccination status, as a way to keep students safe for in-person schooling. Extra safety measures are especially important in schools because no coronavirus vaccine has been federally authorized for children younger than 12, federal health officials have said.

Republican politicians around the country contend that imposing mask requirements infringes on individual liberties, and many states with Republican governors, notably Florida and Texas, have fought mask mandates by school districts and localities.

Some districts have instituted mask mandates anyway, leading to legal battles. The U.S. Department of Education announced on Monday that it was beginning an investigation into whether bans on mask mandates in five states violated civil rights laws that protect disabled students.

States with Democratic governors, including California, New York and Louisiana, have adopted universal mask mandates in schools, as has the Republican governor in Massachusetts. Data collected by The New York Times indicate that Pennsylvania is the 16th state to order a statewide school mask mandate.

Pennsylvania is faring better than many states during the latest wave of infections, but the state has still seen significant increases in reported cases, hospitalizations and deaths, according to data collected by The Times.

Mr. Wolf, a Democratic governor who must work with a Republican-controlled legislature, said earlier this summer that he thought it was best for school districts to choose their own measures to protect students and staff.

But on Tuesday Mr. Wolf said that the rapid spread of the Delta variant, many requests from his constituents and a spike in cases, particularly among children, had changed his mind.

That reversal was not acceptable to Pennsylvania Senate’s president pro tempore, Jake Corman, a Republican, who said “it is completely disingenuous for him to flip-flop now when he didn’t like the choices school districts made” in a statement on Tuesday.

“Our position throughout the pandemic has been consistent — we believe in local control,” Mr. Corman added. “School districts are best suited to make the decisions regarding the health and safety of students, and they should be empowered to make those choices.”

Mr. Wolf said that protecting people in schools was more important.

“We need to put politics aside,” Mr. Wolf said. “We need to get back to what matters: Keeping students safe, and keeping students in the classroom.”

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