Philly schools lift temporary mask mandate as COVID cases remain steady

File - Third graders at Fanny Coppin Elementary school listen as Superintendent Tony Watlington reads aloud from ''Looking Like Me'' by Walter Dean Myers. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

File - Third graders at Fanny Coppin Elementary school listen as Superintendent Tony Watlington reads aloud from ''Looking Like Me'' by Walter Dean Myers. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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The School District of Philadelphia will no longer require masks after two weeks of mandatory post-winter break masking.

Last year, thousands of teachers and students tested positive for COVID in early January, even though a mask mandate was in place, forcing more than 100 schools to switch to virtual learning temporarily.

The district instituted a mask requirement this year “to keep students healthy and learning in-school by reducing COVID-19 spread,” spokesperson Christina Clark said in an email, adding that the district has had “no outbreaks or negative impact on school operations.”

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The district reported roughly 330 cases of COVID two weeks before winter break, according to its COVID tracker, and nearly 240 cases the following week.

Cases have been slightly elevated since then, but not dramatically. Close to 350 students and staff reported testing positive for COVID during the first week of January, compared to 346 last week.

“Therefore, [Kendra McDow, the district’s chief medical officer,] believes the “time-limited mitigation measure of masking for two weeks post-winter break had its desired impact,” Clark said.

The district is one of just a few in the U.S. to require masks periodically — so far, at the start of the school year and following the recent holidays. Nearby Camden City School District also started the year with a mask mandate.

Fewer than 1% of school districts in the country had mask mandates in December, according to the data-tracking firm Burbio, which has stopped tracking policies since then. More than 70% of districts required masks in October 2021.

Philadelphia’s temporary mask requirements have met little resistance, except for anti-mask messages that were painted on the sidewalks outside two of the city’s elementary schools in early January.

Clark said at the time that leaders at both schools had not received any direct pushback concerning the mandate. Many students and staff wear masks even when they are optional.

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