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Bye, Bye Masks: Pennsylvania Lifts Its Face Covering Mandate

Keith Srakocic

After more than 14 months, Pennsylvanians are no longer required to cover their faces, Gov. Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 mask mandate has officially ended. The public health measure was enacted in April 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Though the order official lifted on Monday, many Pennsylvanians have already stopped wearing masks. Those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have not been required to do so since last month, while others have refused to mask most of the pandemic despite the risk this posed to themselves and others.

While the practical implications of this change might be limited, the move symbolizes COVID-19’s receding threat, which has not entirely disappeared. Unvaccinated Pennsylvanians still die every day from the disease.

“For the protection of themselves and others, individuals who have not yet been vaccinated or are partially vaccinated are still encouraged to wear a mask when in public,” said a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Some parents of young kids have expressed dismay about the mandate lifting. Currently children under 12 are not eligible to receive the vaccine.

“I just could not live with myself if I had somehow been involved in transmitting [COVID-19] to a child,” said Plum resident Leigh Anne Rethage, whose son Theodore is 6 years old.

Rethage, an RN, said her anxiety around COVID has increased due to the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus, which is more transmissible. She has considered enrolling her son in the Moderna pediatric vaccine trial, which is recruiting children in Pittsburgh.

When the state first enacted the mask mandate, the policy caused some confusion. In the early days of the pandemic, people were told they did not need face coverings because it was believed that the virus was spread through surface transmission. There was also fear that the public would hoard much needed medical supplies that hospitals were struggling to acquire.

This changed as research, along with anecdotal evidence, showed that masks were an effective way to prevent infection.

Though the state’s mandate is gone, private establishments can still require masks. And the federal government still mandates them for people while traveling via public transportation.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.