A number of mostly Democratic leaders across the nation have increasingly pushed for strict mask and vaccine mandates in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, though such efforts have attracted partisan pushback and legal challenges.
One such order by Pennsylvania’s acting health secretary was vacated this week by the state’s Supreme Court, which upheld a district court ruling that Allison Beam did not have the authority to issue the statewide school mask mandate.
School districts divided
The mandate in question applied to schools and daycare centers, forcing kids as young as 2 to wear masks while in certain settings.
Beam imposed the mandate in September amid concerns in many school districts regarding parental opposition to mask requirements. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf previously announced that the mandate would expire on Jan. 17.
Now, districts will be allowed to set their own standards for mask use in school. An existing federal mandate for public transportation will continue to require face coverings for students while on a bus.
Following a lower court ruling last month, several school districts were already enforcing a mask-optional policy despite a stay implemented while the state appealed the decision, ABC 27 reported. Other districts had approved rules that would make masks optional upon denial of that appeal.
While masks have been widely cited by medical experts and pundits as an effective method of reducing the spread of COVID-19, some studies call into question the usefulness of many cloth masks typically seen in public settings.
Mandate critics make their case
Opponents of school mask mandates frequently note that young kids have a very low risk of serious illness or death caused by a COVID-19 infection.
The numbers are comparable to the seasonal flu, which critics say has never required mask mandates in the past.
Of course, the Pfizer vaccine is also approved for children ages 5 and up, which adds another layer of protection against schoolwide outbreaks.
Combined with the natural immunity of those who have already contracted the virus, there are plenty of reasons for critics to oppose strict mandates like the one put in place by Beam.
The fact that the state’s highest court overruled her might provide some comfort to concerned Pennsylvanians, but it seems clear that progressive politicians are not in a hurry to relax COVID-19 lockdowns and mandates.