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DelVal Suburbs Dump on Philly’s Mask Mandate

Philadelphia is not getting any brotherly love from its Delaware Valley neighbors over its decision to bring back its COVID-19 indoor mask mandate.

“Bucks County has not, at any point during the pandemic, implemented a community mask mandate and has no plans going forward to do so,” James O’Malley, Bucks County Deputy Director of Communications told Delaware Valley Journal.

The Philadelphia Health Department announced Monday it will require masks indoors at offices, shops, restaurants, and some outdoor public spaces beginning April 18. The decision comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, while still low, have crept past the Philadelphia City Council’s benchmark system established earlier this year.

The collar counties surrounding the city will not be joining in.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Chester County government’s position has been that the decision to wear a mask is personal,” said Public Information Officer Rebecca Brain. “Likewise, the decision of a business or organization to require a mask of their customers or employees is personal, and not something that should be regulated by the county.”

Their language echoes Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Disease, who said Sunday, “We’re going to see that each individual is going to have to make their calculation of the amount of risk that they want to take in going to indoor dinners and in going to functions.”

O’Malley acknowledged the Bucks County Health Department tracks local data and consults with nearby hospitals to create mitigation recommendations but expects caseloads to rise and fall over time without the need for a mask mandate.

“I think at this point, with hospitalizations still very low and a high number of people having been vaccinated, we need to pivot away from mandates,” said Rep. Tracy Pennycuick, (R-Harleysville). “We have had two years of education on this disease and people need to make their own risk assessment and decide for themselves if they are going to get vaccinated and/or wear a mask. We also need to recognize that basic cloth masks that most individuals have are not nearly as protective as higher grade N95 masks anyway, so the effectiveness of a mask mandate would be limited at best.”

Across the river in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) concurred. “I’d be shocked if we put a mandate like that in place in New Jersey,” he said Monday.

And the opposition isn’t just in the suburbs. Philadelphia Councilmember Allan Domb (D-At-Large) told DVJournal he thinks the city is making a mistake.

“I’m listening to the CDC,” Domb said. “I’m listening to Dr. Fauci, who said masking is a decision that should be left up to the individual. I’m listening to Children’s Hospital.”

PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia said Friday, “Our team advises against required masking.”

Domb fears the mask mandate will be a blow to the city’s economy just as recovery is beginning.

“It could really set back our local economy. Philadelphia is just one city. It’s one thing if the entire country does it, but they aren’t. The suburbs aren’t doing it, either. This just hurts our small businesses.”

Domb also noted that while Philadelphia’s case rate is higher than the nearby suburbs, it’s far lower than New York City and Washington, D.C., and even lower than Baltimore.

The 7-day average caseload per 100,000, according to New York Times data, in Philadelphia (170) is significantly above that of surrounding counties, including Montgomery (84), Delaware (50), Chester (54), and Bucks (45). That metric, among others, leaves some counties hedging their bets.

Critics of reinstating mask mandates, however, point to hospitalization rates. While Philadelphia has seen a spike in the daily average of positive tests over the past two weeks, up 74 percent, the hospitalization number is down over that same period by 21 percent.

Delaware and Montgomery County officials note their communities are not currently at risk using CDC metrics, but they won’t rule out the need for future mask mandates.

“The Delaware County Health Department (DCHD) is monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic data to identify trends that may require public health community measures such as indoor masking,” the county said in a statement. “Currently, per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Delaware County’s community-level remains low. Therefore, an indoor mask requirement in Delaware County is not yet necessary.”

Montgomery County Public Health Administrator Christina Miller also noted the county’s “low” status, while still suggesting some people may choose to mask for the next few weeks.

“In light of the slight uptick in cases we are seeing across the Northeast, and the uptick in cases that we saw at this time last year following spring break, individuals––particularly those at higher risk for severe COVID––might consider masking up this week and the next few weeks to protect themselves and their community,” Miller said.

Domb also supports a mask recommendation, not a requirement.

“They’re talking about removing the mask mandate for airline travel the same day Philadelphia goes back to masking,” Domb observed. “I wish they would reconsider.”

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Return of Philly Mask Mandate Met With Dismay

As Yogi Berra said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

Beginning April 18, Philadelphia is reimposing its mask mandate–the first major city to take this step. People who are indoors in a public place must wear a mask. The order is due to increased COVID 19 cases, although hospitalization rates remain low.

In support of its mandate, the city Health Department said there are an average of 142 new cases per day, while on April 1 the average was 84 cases. However, hospitalizations are essentially unchanged, with 44 on Monday and 43 on April 1.

Philadelphia’s announcement comes as even Dr. Anthony Fauci conceded the era of government-mandated mitigation as an effective strategy is over.

“It’s going to be a person’s decision about the individual risks they’re going to take,” Fauci told “This Week” co-anchor Jonathan Karl on Sunday.

“This is not going to be eradicated and it’s not going to be eliminated,” Fauci said of COVID-19. “So you’re going to make a question and an answer for yourself, for me as an individual, for you as an individual. What is my age? What is my status? Do I have people at home who are vulnerable that if I bring the virus home there may be a problem?”

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, also went out of his way to call the move “counterproductive.”

“Look, that’s a decision that the mayor made, I certainly didn’t make it,” Shapiro said Monday after the news broke. “And I’m not a supporter of these mandates. What I’m a supporter of is educating and empowering the public so that they can make responsible decisions. But I think those kinds of mandates are counterproductive, particularly at this time.”

Delaware Valley residents who spoke to DVJournal were unhappy with the city’s decision.

“We are extremely disappointed to hear that the city plans to mandate that masks be required when dining indoors without any input from the mitigated community,” said Ben Fileccia, senior director of operations for the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association. “Restaurant workers have suffered severe backlash when enforcing these rules in the past and, unfortunately, this time will be no different.

“This announcement is a major blow to thousands of small businesses and other operators in the city who were hoping this spring would be the start of recovery,” he added. “While the rest of the commonwealth has moved forward navigating life with COVID, Philadelphia has stepped back by imposing another mandate and expecting it to be enforced by businesses and their employees.”

Shannon Grady, a Downington Area School District parent who filed a petition to remove school board members over the mask mandate, said she is concerned.

“This is exactly why I and other parents are still pursuing the cases against the mask mandates.  The schools have tried to use the fact that we are currently ‘mask optional’ as their responses or objections to the petitions filed against them, claiming that the cases are ‘moot,’ but we point out the schools still have a health and safety that includes ‘a universal and correct wearing of masks’ policy.” Grady said.

The latest research has raised questions about how effective masks are at stopping the spread of COVID-19.

“FFP3 [filtering face piece] masks could reduce the number of infections among healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19,” said Dr. Robert Sklaroff, a Philadelphia oncologist. “Otherwise, data supporting the efficacy of various face masks and respirators in preventing infection have been inconsistent. Unless masks are properly fitted and changed regularly, their only impact is psychological.

Several DVJournal readers took to Facebook to express their dismay, and some suggested the mandate will keep them from traveling into the city.

D. J. McGinley of Skippack said, “Say no!”

“I do not plan to go into Philadelphia for the next five years,” said Elliott Hirsh of Wyncote.

“Ridiculous,” said Ted Taylor of Doylestown. The “only city in the country with such a mandate. I won’t be going to Philadelphia any time soon.”

Scott Rogers, of Hamilton, N.J., said, “To hell with any mandates!!!!”

Upper Providence resident Gail Hardie Ford said, “They just can’t give up the power.”

Elkins Park resident Helaine Dubner Zlotnick said, “Disappointing. Requiring masks again will hurt local businesses once again. (And) if extended to Philly schools, the children will suffer socially and physically. Sitting in a public Philly school without air conditioning is a disaster waiting to happen.”

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Souderton Parents Protest Mask Mandate

A group of Souderton Area School District (SASD) parents protested outside the district administration building this week, opposing the mask mandate for students, teachers, and staff.

Kaitlin Derstine, with Soudy Strong Conservatives, said the group feels betrayed by the district’s change in policy because they believed once the statewide mask mandate was struck down by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, SASD would reverse its mask mandate as well.

Derstine says she is very disappointed that the school board members her group worked to help elect did not stand up to administrators and oppose the mask policy.

“In August our board had voted for mask choice for the whole district,” said Derstine. “Then the (state) mandate came out the first day of school.” Parents got an email saying the district would be requiring masks, she said.  “And then we had to fight to get an exemption form.”

“All the while the understanding was when the mask mandate lifts, we will get back to mask choice,” Derstine added.

Even though COVID cases have increased, Derstine says she believes parents should have the choice of whether their children should have to wear a mask for the school day. She pointed out other districts, like nearby North Penn, which has had strict mask and quarantine policies, also has COVID cases that are “exploding through the roof.”

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. told Face The Nation this week, “Cloth masks aren’t going to provide a lot of protection, that’s the bottom line.

“This is an airborne illness. We now understand that, and a cloth mask is not going to protect you from a virus that spreads through airborne transmission. It could protect better through droplet transmission, something like the flu, but not something like this coronavirus,” Gottlieb said.”

And a recent report by the BBC said it was “inconclusive” whether masks in schools stop the spread of COVID.

If district officials had told parents in August that they would require masks, parents could have planned accordingly.

“All of us parents (who oppose masks) would have found other options for our kids,” said Derstine. “We would pursue other avenues, formed ‘pods.’ Of course, the district didn’t want that because that would have cost them money.”

Tax dollars per student would have gone to support the learning pods instead of the school district, she said.

Or like-minded parents would have signed their children up for an online charter school, which the district would also have to fund, she said.

She noted that her son went to summer school last summer without a mask and there were no problems. When their kids are sick, parents will keep them at home, she said.

SASD Superintendent Frank Gallagher did not respond to a request for comment.

“We are demanding medical freedom,” said Derstine. “We are demanding parent choice.”

She is also concerned that teachers, the school nurse, and administrators are busy tracing contacts of students who have COVID, rather than educating kids.

“That is not their job,” said Derstine. “That’s not what we, the taxpayers, pay them to do.”

Some school districts in the area and around the country have been closing schools in the wake of increased COVID cases with the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, which has caused staff shortages.


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Corman: Mask Lawsuit Wasn’t Politics, It Was About Parents

State Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman said he filed a lawsuit against the Wolf administration’s mask mandate for students, not as a politician, but as a parent protecting his children and a citizen defending the rule of law.

“I sued as a parent of two high school students and I also sued from the perspective institutional office of the state Senate,” Corman told the Delaware Valley Journal. “Our feeling was the Secretary of Health did not have this authority.”

On Dec. 10, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of Corman (R-Centre) and his fellow plaintiffs — state Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford), two religious schools, three public schools, and a group of concerned parents. The court vacated the mask mandate and upheld an earlier ruling by the Commonwealth Court.

Prior to the mask order by acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam (who announced recently she is leaving her job), Gov. Tom Wolf “asked the school districts to go through a process to develop a health and safety plan. They went through that process.”

Corman, a GOP candidate for governor, said he and his wife followed their district’s guidance for their children, two of whom are in high school.

“Then, at the last minute, the governor decided to implement his own plan through the secretary of health,” said Corman.  The administration ordered masks to be worn in schools and daycare centers as of Sept. 7.

It was then that Corman decided to file the lawsuit.

“The case was never about whether we should wear masks or not. It was about the rule of law,” he said.  Governors need to follow the law “even in times of emergency.”

And last May “the voters made a historic vote to reduce the governor’s authority,” via ballot questions. But Wolf, instead of “understanding” the voters’ will, “tried to circumvent it. You can’t make things up out of thin air…You have to go through a process.”

Corman is pleased the Supreme Court ruled against the mask mandates because otherwise, it would mean the governor had the power to decide to close businesses and houses of worship again and tell people they cannot congregate and shut down protests, he said.

“We believe (Wolf) never had this authority without going through the legislative process,” said Corman. “That’s what this was all about.”

However, Elizabeth Rementer, a spokeswoman for Wolf, called the Supreme Court decision “extremely disappointing.”

“The administration urges school districts to prioritize the health and safety of their students and staff when making mitigation decisions,” she said. ​“Masking is a proven and simple way to keep kids in school without interruption and participate in sports and other extra-curricular activities. Universal masking in schools, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend, reduces the risk that entire classrooms will need to quarantine due to a positive COVID-19 case,”

Meanwhile, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision some local school districts, including Bensalem, Central Bucks, Pennridge, and Marple Newtown, have announced that they will make mask-wearing optional.


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