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February 13, 2022

Archdiocese of Philadelphia to lift mask mandate in suburban schools, city requirement will remain

The update will go into effect for Catholic elementary and high schools in four suburban counties on Feb. 28

Suburban high schools operated by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will end their mask requirements on Feb. 28, school officials said on Friday. Parish and regional elementary and middle schools in Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, and Delaware Counties will also go mask-optional on that date. 

In a letter to parents on Friday, Archdiocese officials wrote that, in light of declining COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates, students and staff in Catholic schools across the four suburban counties will be able to choose whether or not to wear a mask for in-person instruction. 

The decision applies to eight high schools across the four suburban counties, as well as more than 50 elementary and special education schools in the suburbs. The decision was pushed to the end of February to allow for a larger reduction in case counts before it goes into effect. 

"As part of our continuous monitoring of COVID-19 statistics, we have seen a significant drop in the number of positive cases within our school communities over the last two weeks," officials wrote. "Now, as positive case numbers are declining and the data regarding cloth masks have been updated, we are looking at steps to adjust our plan slowly to a more traditional school environment while keeping children safe." 

Any student or staff member who chooses to remain masked is allowed to do so, and the Archdiocese recommends those who are unvaccinated or who have certain medical conditions to remain masked in school. 

Masks will still be required on buses, in accordance with federal law. Students who test positive for COVID-19 will have to stay masked for five days after they return to school, in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quarantine guidance. 

"The further reduction of other mitigation efforts will be considered over time pending circumstances," officials wrote. "We continue, in the strongest possible terms, to encourage all students and staff to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine and booster." 

All other mitigation procedures — social distancing, increased ventilation, and additional sanitization — will remain in place. COVID-19 cases will continued to be monitored in all suburban school communities, and the Archdiocese could reinstate the mandate if there is another large surge in positive cases, according to the letter. 

In Philadelphia, Catholic school staff and students will remain masked until the Department of Public Health lifts its mandate for masking in schools. The city's Public Health officials have remained solid on not ending mask or vaccine mandates just yet, even as neighboring states and counties ease restrictions. 

"While our case counts continue to rapidly drop, there are still hundreds of Philadelphians testing positive for COVID everyday, and hundreds of people are still hospitalized," officials told 6abc. "Given the outsized effect this virus has had on our Black and Brown communities, we are not comfortable stopping a mandate that has done so much to protect folks." 

New Jersey school staff and students received word on Feb. 7 that the state's school mask mandate will be lifted on March 7. Meanwhile, New Jersey's state of emergency declaration remains in effect, which allows Gov. Phil Murphy to provide additional supports to hospitals impacted by the omicron variant surge.