Gov. Tom Wold reversed course on Tuesday, mandating that students, staff and visitors to public and private schools and day care facilities will be required to wear masks beginning Sept. 7.

Wolf said that the state has the authority to issue the mandate under powers granted to the Department of Health, regardless of the move by the General Assembly in June to end the state’s COVID disaster emergency.

State Rep. Carl Metzgar, R-Somerset County, quickly called the mask mandate “absurd” and added that the state’s changing guidance has been difficult to manage.

”For the last year and a half, Gov. Wolf has continually changed his mind on the well-being for Pennsylvanians. We are exhausted from the whiplash, especially when it comes to our children,” Metzgar said.

Wolf had previously said that his administration would let local officials decide whether to require masks, as the CDC recommends, or not. But Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said that the spike in COVID cases over the last month has changed the landscape, and justifies the statewide mandate.

“The reality that we are living in now is extremely different than it was just one month ago,” Beam said. “Pennsylvania, along with the rest of the nation is seeing steep increases in cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19. In July, we were seeing fewer than 300 new cases of COVID per day across the state. Now we are seeing more than 3,000 cases per day. Hospitalizations from COVID are up — 1,850 people are in the hospital just today because of COVID-19, versus 245 in mid-July,” Beam said.

Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland County, said that Wolf’s mandate may be “well-intended,” but she added, “His approach is not based on data, nor does it consider the demographics, geography and cultures across the Commonwealth.”

State Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford County, called Wolf’s move “a breathtaking example of government overreach.”

Wolf called on the General Assembly to return to the Capitol last week to pass legislation to implement a statewide mask mandate, but Republicans who control both chambers of the Legislature refused. and with local officials in much of the state unwilling to enact mask mandates, Wolf said he decided he needed to act.

“I’m left holding the bag,” Wolf said. “Doing nothing right now to stop COVID-19 is just not an option. Doing nothing is going to mean more sick kids. It is going to mean more days out of school. It is going to mean more grief for communities and more problems for our economy. When kids are forced to quarantine at home parents have to call off work. and that’s bad for workplaces. It’s bad for for all of us,” he said.

Wolf didn’t mention it in his press conference comment, but in a press release, he said that local school boards’ deliberations about masking policies were tainted by “an aggressive nationwide campaign … spreading misinformation about mask-wear and pressuring and intimidating school districts to reject mask policies.”

The Pennsylvania School Board Association though said that the local decisions were made after “hard work, conducting discussions and seeking community input” and while the PSBA said it would remind local districts of “legal obligation related to the directive and urging them to consult with their local district solicitor on compliance” the school board group said the state shouldn’t be implementing statewide mandates on the masking controversy.

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for the New Castle News and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

 

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CNHI Harrisburg Bureau

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for the New Castle News and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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