November 08, 2021
Pennsylvania schools could see the end to the state's face mask requirement for students and school employees by early next year, Gov. Tom Wolf said on Monday.
Though the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic means that nothing is entirely predictable, Wolf said he expected to lift the mask mandate on Jan. 17. At that time, individual school districts will determine the best courses of action to limit the spread of the virus in their schools, which may mean keeping students, teachers and other staff masked.
"The school mask order has been critical in ensuring Pennsylvania's children could safely learn and grow in an in-person classroom setting at the beginning of the school year," Wolf said. "During the announcement, my administration made clear that we would continue to reevaluate the status of the school mask mandate."
The governor's decision comes less than a week after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the small-dose Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11, which mean many more school-age children are eligible – and will be receiving – their shots.
"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," Wolf said.
While the governor expects to lift the mask requirement for K-12 schools, Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam's order mandating masks for students ages 2 and older at childcare and early learning centers in Pennsylvania remains in effect.
Wolf enacted the face mask mandate on Sept. 7, at a time when the state was seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and the state's schools were returning for the new school year. It required students and staff at K-12 schools to be masked regardless of their vaccination statuses.
Wolf and Beam encouraged the state's school leaders to continue to follow CDC guidance on all COVID-19 prevention strategies even as the statewide mask mandate ends.