Pa. mask mandate must expire Dec. 4, judge rules in latest twist

A North Penn parent wishing to only be identified as 'mom', protested mask mandates outside the school board meeting on August 19, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A North Penn parent wishing to only be identified as 'mom', protested mask mandates outside the school board meeting on August 19, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A Pennsylvania judge on Tuesday said an order that requires masks inside K-12 schools and child care facilities to contain the coronavirus must expire Dec. 4, although that is unlikely to be the final legal development in the case.

The ruling by Commonwealth Court Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon comes a week after her court threw out the statewide mask mandate, and it lifts the automatic suspension of that decision granted when Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Cannon’s ruling, in theory, gives time for the state Supreme Court to take up the case, or for Wolf’s administration to write and enact a mask mandate through an emergency regulation.

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In a 4-1 ruling last week, Commonwealth Court sided with a legal challenge to the masking order that took effect in early September amid rising coronavirus cases and concerns about the surge of the delta variant.

The judges agreed with the challengers that state law did not explicitly allow Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam to order a mask mandate to contain a disease, and the state never created a regulation under the state’s disease control law to allow it.

Two days earlier, Wolf announced he would return authority over masking decisions to local school districts on Jan. 17, but intended to continue masking in child care centers and early learning programs.

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