The statewide mask mandate, which was imposed in early September in response to a surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, is set to expire on Jan. 17, 2022. Wolf said at that time, schools may decide whether to follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to keep the mask requirements in place, although his administration will “continue to reevaluate the status of the school mask mandate.”
“Now, we are in a different place than we were in September, and it is time to prepare for a transition back to a more normal setting,” the Democratic governor said. ”Unfortunately, the COVID-19 virus is now a part of our daily lives, but with the knowledge we’ve gained over the past 20 months and critical tools like the vaccine at our disposal, we must take the next step forward in our recovery.”
While Wolf didn’t say if the decision to ease the school mask mandates was prompted by the CDC recommendation of COVID-19 vaccines for school-aged children, he encouraged parents to vaccinate their children.
“With the availability of the pediatric vaccine, I encourage parents to talk to their doctors and pharmacists about getting their child vaccinated,” he said.
Under the current state order, all adults and children must wear masks inside K—12 school buildings, early learning programs, and child care facilities, regardless of their vaccination status. The order has sparked much debate among school communities, recently emerging as one of the key issues during school board elections across Pennsylvania.
In North Hills School District serving the Democrat-majority Allegheny County, Republican Elizabeth Nease was elected to the school board running on a platform that supports parents’ rights to make medical decisions for their children.
“Parents should have the choice over all medical decisions for their children, whether it be wearing a mask or receiving a vaccine,” Nease, a stay-at-home mother of three, wrote on Facebook. “Parents know what is best for their children and should be allowed to make that decision.”
She also supports opening schools for in-person instruction five days per week, and to develop a strategy to help address learning loss during the lockdown that wasn’t lifted until August.
Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Democrats are warning the party leaders in Washington that they need to pay attention to parents who complain about COVID-19 restrictions in schools and the indoctrination of progressive ideologies, such as critical race theory (CRT).
“A lot of it now is about this notion of parent control in public school, and that is the mask debate and the critical race theory debate coming together under one heading,” Liz Sheehan, the Democratic president of the New Hope-Solebury School Board, told the Associated Press. “And that, I think is what has really motivated people locally, and why we saw a lot of school board members lose seats, a lot of far-right people gain seats.”