Judge denies motion to toss Pennsylvania mask mandate

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf was in Philadelphia Tuesday to announce that contract tracing app COVID AlertPA is available for download. The app notifies users when they have been in contact with someone who was exposed to the disease. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf was in Philadelphia Tuesday to announce that contract tracing app COVID AlertPA is available for download. The app notifies users when they have been in contact with someone who was exposed to the disease. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Pennsylvania may continue to enforce its mask mandate and perform contact tracing, a federal judge decided Friday, ruling against two families who claim the pandemic measures violate their constitutional rights.

Like most other states, Pennsylvania requires people to wear masks to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. The state also has a contact tracing program in which people who have been potentially exposed to the virus are identified and quarantined.

The plaintiffs’ lawsuit argues that masks have “become a symbol of government oppression” and that wearing them “conveys the message that the wearer has surrendered his or her freedom to the government.”

The contact tracing program is intrusive and subjects people to state surveillance, the suit argues.

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Both families say they have removed their children from school, and are avoiding public places where their movements might be documented, because of the state’s pandemic measures.

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III on Friday ruled against the families’ request for a preliminary injunction that would block enforcement of the mask mandate and halt the state’s contact tracing program, saying that while the lawsuit “expresses real and significant constitutional concerns,” the plaintiffs “have not suffered an injury sufficient to warrant judicial review.”

“Nearly nine months, and quickly approaching a full year, into this global pandemic, we are all fatigued,” wrote Jones, who was appointed to the federal bench by then-President George W. Bush. “All of our lives have changed drastically, and, indeed, many of us are weary of continued mitigation efforts. But our Constitution does not permit us to consider such frustrations without concrete, particularized, and non-hypothetical allegations that are capable of full resolution by this court.”

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