With rise in COVID cases, Philadelphia schools will return to mandatory masking after winter break

A woman in a black jacket helps a young girl as she’s reading a children’s book.
The School District of Philadelphia will require students and staff to wear masks for the first two weeks of school following the winter break. (Rachel Wisniewski for Chalkbeat)

Citing an increase in COVID cases, School District of Philadelphia officials announced Thursday that students and staff will be required to wear masks for the first two weeks of school following the winter break.

Currently, masking is voluntary in schools, although students who test positive for the coronavirus must wear a mask for five days after returning to school. The mandatory policy for all will be in effect from Jan. 3 to Jan. 13.

That policy was signaled last August, before school started, in the district’s overall COVID-19 protocols for the year, which said that masking would be enforced “upon return from extended breaks and holidays when increased social gathering may heighten the risk of exposure.” 

In a statement, district spokesperson Christina Clark said that the district has been monitoring data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and “working closely with the [Philadelphia Department of Public Health] to monitor local Covid-19 conditions. This is a proactive measure to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and other respiratory conditions in school, reduce absenteeism and prioritize in-person learning after the winter break.”

Starting this week, the district has made available free at-home COVID-19 test kits at five school-based testing locations. Those sites will be open weekdays throughout the break, except for Dec. 26 and Jan. 2. Those are the official federal holidays observing Christmas and New Year’s Day, both of which fall on a Sunday. 

The most recent report on COVID from Mayor Jim Kenney’s office said that the city is averaging 192 new cases a day over the last week, with 10.4% of tests that are reported to the city coming back positive. In the last week of November, 9.5% were positive and there were 150 cases that week.

Dale Mezzacappa is a senior writer for Chalkbeat Philadelphia, where she covers K-12 schools and early childhood education in Philadelphia. Contact Dale at dmezzacappa@chalkbeat.org

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