PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia School District staff and students must mask for the first 10 days of the 2022-23 school year, but masks will then be optional — but “strongly recommended” — as long as case counts do not spike.
“We are committed to keeping students in school for in-person learning,” Kendra McDow, a pediatrician and epidemiologist and the district’s chief medical officer, said at a news conference Friday.
A mask mandate will be reinstated if the COVID-19 community transmission rate, as determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, becomes high. (It’s currently in the medium range.)
“Our schools are hubs for our community and are among the safest places for our students to be,” said Tony B. Watlington Sr., the district’s new superintendent, who with McDow detailed the district’s 2022-23 health and safety protocols.
Though they have a plan in place, things may shift, district officials said.
“It is important that we remain flexible, as we have done for the past 2 1/2 years,” said McDow.
The health and safety announcement comes on the heels of new guidance from the CDC, which Thursday said it was no longer recommending social distancing or quarantines for those exposed to someone infected with COVID.
Children’s Hospital’s PolicyLab also suggested this week that districts loosen their approach to COVID-19 mitigation. Absent directives from county health departments, districts no longer need weekly testing, social distancing, cohorts or masking — unless COVID transmission is high, CHOP said. PolicyLab did recommend vaccines for school staff and students.
Though students and teachers had a few months of no masks in the spring, the district has been mask-mandatory since late May, when rising case counts caused leaders to return to a mask mandate. Masks were required during summer school, which ended last week.
Watlington and McDow also said the district is dropping a requirement for student athletes to be vaccinated, though it’s still urging them to get inoculated. The change, McDow said, came because “we wanted to make sure that we were equitably applying the vaccine mandate across the board if we were going to continue with it during the school year.”