PITTSBURGH — With cases of the COVID-19 delta variant climbing, Pittsburgh-area families, schools and businesses are becoming more uncertain about the coming weeks and months.
Change in mask guidance from CDC
It might be the end of July, but the start of school is quickly approaching. CDC officials just revised their latest mask guidance to recommend that vaccinated people wear one indoors in K-12 schools.
“CDC recommends that everyone in K-12 schools wear a mask indoors, including teachers, staff, students and visitors, regardless of vaccination status,” said CDC Director Dr. Rachelle Walensky.
Local schools and masks
When it comes to local school districts, there’s a bit of a mixed bag. Some districts are adamant about masks while others say they’re not requiring them.
In Westmoreland County, Hempfield Area School District officials announced it will be up to a student’s parents to decide whether or not their child will wear a mask in school. The superintendent sent Channel 11 a statement that said, “we have not made changes based on this anticipated announcement. We will continue to monitor updates and consider prior to as well as once the school year begins.”
An online petition was started weeks ago asking North Allegheny district leaders to require masks in schools. The district’s official reopening plan said parents can decide if they want to send their student to school with a face covering. The district will comply if it becomes mandatory by local, state or federal authorities.
In Pittsburgh, district officials are making mask-wearing mandatory for all students and staff inside school buildings in their plans for this coming school year.
Nearly 350 people have already signed a petition urging the South Fayette School District to not require masks when classes start up again. The petition asks that parents have the final say on if their child will wear a face-covering.
Allegheny County Health Department to issue more Wednesday
Officials with the Allegheny County Health Department said to expect more details on the CDC’s guidance Wednesday. Here’s what a spokesperson said:
“The CDC today issued new recommendations that masks be worn in indoor public areas in parts of the country with substantial or high transmission. This does not apply at this time to Allegheny County, where rates are ‘moderate.’ Dr. Bogen has consistently said that we must follow CDC recommendations on masking and other mitigation efforts to combat the virus and variants. That includes getting all eligible people vaccinated as soon as possible.”
Lawrence vs. Beaver County mask recommendations
In Lawrence County, infection rates are slightly higher than the rest of the region, with the CDC calling for people to mask up in public whether they’re vaccinated or not. At the county line between Lawrence and Beaver counties, things are very different for families. If you step over into Beaver County, the rates of transmission are not at the same level and health leaders don’t know how cases there will go.
“I would not like to go back to wearing masks,” Lauren Pavia said.
“I feel we need to tighten it up. We’ve all gotten a little lax in the past few months,” David Trocci said.
“People had less masking and distancing. You put these factors together, none of this is a surprise,” said UPMC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Donald Yealy.
Lawmakers, leaders respond to changing mask rules
State Senator Jay Costa said he understands why the CDC is reversing course when it comes to masks but he said he was surprised that included those who’ve gotten the vaccine.
“We do know other states aren’t doing as well as we are,” Costa said.
Channel 11 checked with Gov. Tom Wolf’s office and a spokesperson said he has no plans to implement another statewide mask mandate at this time. That’s something state Rep. Josh Kail was happy to hear.
“Its everyone’s individual decision. At this point, I think people know what they need to do to keep themselves safe,” he said.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health also said it is “not considering reinstating a statewide mandate” and is instead recommending everyone get vaccinated.
Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh: each parish will make own decision
A spokesperson for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh sent Channel 11 a statement in regards to the update mask guidance:
“At this point in time, each parish of the Episcopal Diocese will make its own decision concerning masking, social distancing, and other Covid-mitigating practices. When Bishop McConnell gave the green light for congregations to resume in-person gatherings, he did so with the provision that each church have a well-developed and clearly articulated safety plan based on their own unique circumstances, trusting the clergy and lay leaders to adapt those protocols as the situation warrants. That framework is still in place as we continue to monitor the ever changing impact of the coronavirus.”
Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh says reviewing latest guidance
Channel 11 reached out to the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh about the updated guidance. A spokesperson sent a statement:
“We have seen and will be reviewing the latest guidance from the CDC. As we and other organizations have done throughout the pandemic, we will continue to be in communication with local health officials to determine if we need to make any changes to our existing safety protocols.”