‘The virus is not done with us.’ Mask mandate returns for Philly schools

Students wear face masks outside of their school in Philly

File photo: Philadelphia School District students at Samuel Powel Elementary School and Science Leadership Academy Middle School on Aug. 31, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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In an email sent to school staff Friday afternoon, Philadelphia School District Superintendent Dr. William Hite said masks will be required for all students and staff throughout the school day starting Monday, May 23. That requirement includes riding school buses and vans.

“As we’ve learned since the pandemic began, the coronavirus continues to evolve and so too will our response to it,” Hite said. The move is designed “to help protect everyone’s health and well-being as COVID-19 case counts continue to rise in the Philadelphia area,” he said.

Philly schools originally rescinded its mask mandate for students on March 9.

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On Thursday, city health officials warned of the increasing number of people in Philadelphia hospitals for treatment of COVID-19. With 142 people hospitalized in the city, that’s nearly double the 79 patients reported just three weeks ago.

“The entire Philadelphia region is seeing COVID-19 cases rise dangerously,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole. “While we are not looking to reinstate a mask mandate at this time, now is the time for Philadelphians to remember that the pandemic is still here and take precautions.”

The number of Philadelphians testing positive for COVID-19 is now as high as it was during the first week of February and has more than doubled in the last three weeks.

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Even though the city is not mandating masks, Bettigole “strongly recommends” residents and visitors to wear a mask whenever they’re indoors in public.

“It’s clear that the virus is not done with us,” said Dr. Patrick J. Brennan, chief medical officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System in a statement Thursday.  “We need to continue working together to use tools to protect ourselves and one another from infection and severe disease during this rise in cases.”

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