During a news conference on Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that Pennsylvania students and teachers will be required to wear masks while inside school buildings.

The mandate will take effect on Sept. 7, after many schools will have already been back for more than a week.

Masks will only be required indoors, and not for outdoor activities.

Less than a month ago, Wolf said he would not issue another mask mandate, but reversed course after COVID cases and hospitalizations began to rise as the Delta Variant spreads.

“My office has received an outpouring of messages from parents asking the administration to protect all children by requiring masks in schools,” Gov. Wolf said in a press release issued by his office. “The science is clear. The Delta variant is highly transmissible and dangerous to the unvaccinated, many of whom are children too young to receive the vaccine. Requiring masks in schools will keep our students safer and in the classroom, where we all want them to be.”

Currently, children aged 12-and-up are eligible to receive Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, which was recently fully approved by the FDA.

Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are all currently conducting clinical trials of their vaccines on children under 12.

Many Republicans in the state legislature are calling the mandate an overreach, after the governor’s recent request to pass legislation requiring masks was shut down by the House and Senate.

“As recently as a few weeks ago, the governor himself said masking at schools should be a local decision,” Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter) said in a press release. “Apparently, he’s only for local control if the local officials agree with him. Our caucus legal team is assessing the means through which the governor is issuing this mandate to determine if it is valid.”

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association has also come out against the executive order, saying individual districts are best equipped to make such decisions.

Masks were deemed optional at Sayre and Athens Area School Districts, and the new mandate has left people confused.

“People have different opinions on wearing masks, and we’ve tried to honor that through the start of the school year,” Athens Superintendent Craig Stage said. “We prepared for the school year under a certain set of expectations and recommendations, and I think parents prepared for the school year under the same set of expectations … It is frustrating for parents to figure out how to plan properly.”

Stage said that despite the potential frustrations, he hopes parents will still value the importance of being at school and learning in person.

“The most important place a child needs to be right now is in school,” he said. “As we learned last year and in 2020, while we can and have the capability to provide remote learning, the real value and benefit to a child’s success is having that face-to-face interaction with an actual teacher. That happens only in a classroom setting.”

Ryan Sharp can be reached at rsharp@morning-times.com or (570) 888-9643 ext. 229. Follow @RealRyanSharp on Twitter.

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