Universal masking returns to Philadelphia schools Monday

Philadelphia students, wearing protective masks, arrive for the first day of classes.
Philadelphia students and staff will return to wearing face masks to school Monday due to a rise in COVID case counts. (Kimberly Paynter / WHYY)

Editor’s note: This article was updated to reword material that appeared in a City of Philadelphia press release.

The Philadelphia school district will require all students and staff to wear masks in schools, offices, and on buses and vans starting Monday until further notice.

The decision to return to masks was recommended by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health due to rising COVID-19 case counts, said Superintendent William Hite in an email to staff Friday.

“As we learned since the pandemic began, the coronavirus continues to evolve and so too will our response to it,” Hite said. “As we work together to minimize the spread, please remember that our Health and Safety protocols are still in effect, including the importance of notifying the district if you test positive for COVID-19.” 

Philadelphia schools ended a previous mask mandate March 9, although officials announced at that time a mandate would return briefly from April 18-22, the week after spring break. On May 13, the district ended a mandatory quarantine period for people exposed to COVID, although it did require those students and staff to wear masks while at school. 

Friday’s announcement comes after the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that children ages 5 through 11 receive a booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine five months after being fully vaccinated.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan said the move “makes sense.”

“We all want school buildings to remain open, and we want students and staff to be safe. This is one key measure of ensuring just that,” Jordan said.

Nearly 12% of COVID-19 tests have come back positive in Philadelphia over the last two weeks, with an average of 364 new cases of the virus per day. Two weeks ago, the city was averaging 261 new cases a day.

“Once again, we are seeing the number of COVID-19 cases rise in Philadelphia,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole earlier this month. “I still strongly encourage people to wear masks while in indoor public spaces to help stop the spread.”

Bureau Chief Johann Calhoun covers K-12 schools and early childhood education in Philadelphia. He oversees Chalkbeat Philadelphia’s education coverage. Contact Johann at jcalhoun@chalkbeat.org

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