Leaders of Pennsylvania’s Republican-led legislature rejected Democratic Governor Tom Wolf’s request that they call the legislature back into session and pass a mandate to require all schools and childcare centers to make children wear masks.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman and House Speaker Bryan Cutler hand-delivered a letter to Wolf’s office Thursday in response to Wolf’s Wednesday letter in which he made the request, citing concerns of parents, pediatricians, and teachers.
Corman and Cutler acknowledge an increase in Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 cases and they noted that one of the most effective ways to mitigate the virus is to urge those who can get vaccinated to do so.
The COVID-19 impact is not equal everywhere, the letter says, and while cases have been on the rise, Wolf previously said he would not impose any additional statewide mandates, and instead allow mitigation decisions to be made at a local level.
“Your letter today is a stark departure from that position,” Corman and Cutler wrote. “At this late date, in many of our communities, local leaders have already made important decisions they believe are in the best interest of their residents and are prepared to adjust those decisions as challenges evolve.”
The letter also asks for data that would show the effectiveness of vaccines.
“We have asked for improved data from our state health officials regarding current case counts and exactly who is being the most impacted,” the joint letter says. “It is our understanding the overwhelming majority of the hospitalized patients in Pennsylvania are unvaccinated individuals, which, according to CDC recommendations, should already be wearing a mask. We once again ask for the data relating to new COVID-19 cases to be delineated according to the number of infections diagnosed in individuals who are unvaccinated as well as infections diagnosed in individuals who are vaccinated. All Pennsylvanians—both vaccinated and unvaccinated—need to know how their respective group is performing.”
The legislature’s leadership intends to continue allowing school districts and local leaders the authority to make mitigation and safety decisions without statewide interventions, they said.
Last year, under a state of emergency, Wolf imposed mandatory masking in most public places, including schools. Without the emergency order in place, he must work with the legislature to call for such requirements.
Lawmakers held a hearing in early August debating who has authority to require masks: school boards, the legislature, the governor, the department of health or education, or the individual.
At the time, Pennsylvania’s Departments of Health and Education recommended schools follow guidance from the Center for Disease Control that includes social distancing, and for all students, vaccinated or not, to wear a mask in school.
Since that hearing, many school boards have held their regular, local meetings which have been packed with parents with both opinions. Some school boards are requiring masks, others are not.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Education could not say how many schools are requiring masks at this time.
Pennsylvania’s House and Senate will be back in session in September.