The School District of Philadelphia is requiring all students and staff to wear masks for the first 10 days of the upcoming school year, officials announced on Friday.
After that, everyone is allowed to go mask-optional, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status, unless the community transmission level is high.
“For the first 10 days of the new school year—from Aug. 29 through Sept. 9—all students and staff will be required to wear masks while in school, regardless of the COVID-19 Community Level,” according to an announcement on the district’s website.
“This is an extra precaution for everyone’s health and well-being since increased end-of-summer social gatherings may heighten the risk of exposure to COVID-19,” the post states.
The district will follow guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to determine whether masking will be mandatory on campus and on buses.
If the CDC finds the COVID-19 community transmission level is “high” in Philadelphia, masks will become mandatory again. When the level is “medium,” the health agency “strongly recommends” masking.
There will also be periods the district will re-implement mask requirements following extended breaks in the school year and holidays when “increased social gatherings may heighten the risk of exposure to COVID-19,” or in the event of a “classroom” or “school-wide outbreak.”
If a student, or staff member, is exposed to COVID-19 but doesn’t show any symptoms, they will be allowed to remain at school, but are required to wear a mask for 10 days.
If a student tests positive for COVID-19, they will need to isolate at home for at least five days. If symptom-free after five days, they can return to school but are required to “wear a high-quality (N95 or KN95) mask for an additional 5 days and must eat in a designated area,” the district’s announcement reads.
Students and staff attending the district’s “Pre-K Head Start” program are required to wear a mask regardless of transmission levels for the entire 2022–2023 school year, according to updated pandemic protocols (pdf) presented by Dr. Kendra McDowell, the district’s chief medical officer.
For those unable to wear a mask due to a disability, the school should be informed to assist the student with “accommodations around mitigation efforts,” which include rapid antigen testing every 48 hours for 10 days. If testing isn’t available, or possible, the student will be required to quarantine at home for 10 days.
McDowell and Tony Watlington Sr., the district’s superintendent, said at a news conference they’re “determined to keep students in school for in-person learning” following significant disruptions over the past three school years.
Dr. Marc Siegel, a professor of medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center, told Fox News that requiring masks for the first 10 days of the school year is “a sign of hypocrisy,” noting that the mandate offers “no public health value.”
“The whole thing is, mandates aren’t working at all,” Siegel declared. “So, you know, they just obscure the question about whether there’s any public health value in actually doing any of this. I mean, I think if you’re at high risk, there is. So if I was in an area with a lot of spread, and I was at high risk, I might choose to wear a mask indoors. But there’s no evidence that these mandates doing anything.”