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Local school districts are keeping their mask policies in effect for the time being.
Duquesne and East Allegheny school officials said their mandatory mask policies will remain in place, while McKeesport Area School District said the district is making face masks optional but “highly recommended” for all staff and students.
Masking also is mandatory on school buses, McKeesport Area officials said.
On Friday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the state Department of Health overstepped its authority on Aug. 31 by setting a blanket requirement for all students to wear a face mask while in class to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, state Rep. Jesse Topper, two religious schools, three public school districts and several parents. Corman and Topper are Republicans.
The justices ruled that when acting state Health Secretary Alison Beam enacted the mandatory mask rule, she did not follow state law, which requires a disaster emergency to be declared by the governor before a public health requirement such as face masks can be imposed.
Beam has since announced plans to resign at the end of the year. A spokesperson for Gov. Tom Wolf told reporters in Harrisburg her resignation is not related to the Supreme Court ruling.
Pennsylvania is currently leading the U.S. in the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19, with large increases reported in the central part of the state, where several hospitals are reporting they are over 100 percent of capacity.
Allegheny County has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 vaccination in the state, with 73 percent of residents having received at least one dose. Rural central Pennsylvania counties have the lowest vaccination rates.
On Sunday, Duquesne City School Superintendent Sue Mariani announced that the district will keep its mandatory mask policy in place.
In a letter to parents, Mariani said the district had three considerations — the current rate of positive COVID-19 tests in Allegheny County, the recommendations of the Allegheny County Health Department and the recommendations of the district’s own reopening committee.
“The decision to (retain) mandatory masking is due to the county still being in substantial status,” said Mariani, who thanked families for their “continued patience as the pandemic still remains a part of our everyday lives.”
An East Allegheny school district official said Tuesday that its mandatory masking policy remains in effect because it was imposed by the school board as part of its health and safety plan. Masks must be worn by all students, staff and visitors at East Allegheny schools.
East Allegheny’s COVID-19 health and safety plan is available on its website. The district has scheduled a COVID-19 vaccination clinic for all people ages 5 and older from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Dec. 22.
According to the district’s website, seven students and two teachers are currently quarantined due to COVID-19.
McKeesport Area’s health and safety plan also is available online.
The Allegheny County Health Department reports on its website that after four weeks of increases, confirmed and probable COVID-19 infections dropped for the week beginning Dec. 5. According to the health department’s seven-day moving average, the current rate of positive COVID-19 tests is at 12.4 percent in the Pittsburgh area.
There have been four deaths from COVID-19 in Allegheny County over the past week.
Four Mon Valley communities — Wall, Elizabeth Borough, Elizabeth Twp. and Liberty — are among the Allegheny County communities with the highest rates of COVID-19 infections over the past 90 days, according to the health department.
The four communities with the highest death rates from COVID-19 are all in the Mon Valley — Forward Twp., Turtle Creek, White Oak and McKeesport.
Health experts are warning that the upcoming holiday season — including family dinners and Christmas and New Year’s parties — is likely to lead to another increase in COVID-19 cases.
An Allegheny County spokeswoman earlier this month said residents should continue to follow federal guidance on masking, maintain physical distancing, wash their hands regularly, “and if you’re sick, stay home and get tested.”
Although so-called “breakthrough” cases of COVID-19 have been reported — incidents where persons who were fully vaccinated against the SARS-CoV2 virus develop COVID-19 anyway — the spokeswoman said that according to the county health department, “vaccinated persons continue to have greater protection from the virus and the potential for serious illness, hospitalization and death.”
The health department said it will be sharing breakthrough data “on an ongoing basis” soon.
Originally published December 14, 2021.