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The two Pennsylvania state teachers’ unions on Wednesday urged K-12 schools to require masks in school buildings, a measure state officials are encouraging but have not enforced as students prepare to return to class.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association cited the threat of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus, which is increasing infections and hospitalizations across the state and nationwide, including among children.

“The mask is essential for in-person learning to continue throughout the year” said Rich Askey, President of the PSEA. “If we’re going to be able to keep our schools open for in-person teaching all year round, we need to make the right decisions now. “

AFT Pennsylvania, the state affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, has also called on schools to demand universal masking.

“It’s a good time to remember something we learned over a year ago: my mask protects you; your mask protects me. To even consider not implementing a universal mask mandate in schools is frankly outrageous. Layered attenuation works ”, said Arthur Steinberg, president of AFT Pennsylvania.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends masks in schools for students, staff, and teachers.

But masking has become a very controversial and politicized issue, with heated discussions taking place at the local level as school boards decide their policy when schools reopen for the fall. Some districts in Pennsylvania have said they will need masks, while others have decided to make them optional.

Joseph Roy, the Bethlehem area school district superintendent, announced on Wednesday that masks will be required in school buildings, citing the exponential spread of the virus in surrounding Northampton County since early July.

Roy said district health experts have determined that the continued increase means “there is no more latitude” on mandatory universal masking. The measure will be in place at least until the end of September.

“I’m not happy this is where we are at, but I have to do my duty to protect our children, our staff and our community and it is clearly the right thing to do. he said.

The state health department urges school districts to follow federal guidelines and require masks for all students, teachers and staff, regardless of immunization status, but Alison Beam, the acting health secretary , said this week that a statewide mandate was not under discussion.

“The administration continues to strongly encourage school districts to adopt the CDC guidelines, which recommend universal masking for K-12 schools,” Maggi Barton, spokesperson for the Department of Health, said Wednesday.

Statewide, confirmed infections have nearly doubled in the past two weeks to an average of 2,000 per day. Hospitalizations are on the rise and deaths have started to rise again as well. More than 60 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties are considered to have substantial or high community transmission rates, according to the CDC.

In other coronavirus-related news in Pennsylvania on Wednesday:

ARCHDIOSESE: NO EXEMPTION FROM RELIGIONS FOR VACCINE

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia has said it will not grant religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine.

He made the decision after several priests in the archdiocese were invited by parishioners to provide a letter or sign a form in support of a religious exemption. Some Catholics have opposed COVID-19 vaccines because they were tested or produced using cell lines derived from aborted fetuses decades ago.

The archdiocese said so “Highly recommend” that Catholics be vaccinated in accordance with the guidelines of the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“People may wish to request exemption from vaccination on the basis of their own reasons of conscience. In such cases, the burden of supporting such a request is not to be validated by the local Church or its clergy ”, Archdiocese spokesman Kenneth Gavin said.

The Vatican, citing the serious threat posed by COVID-19, said it is “Morally acceptable” use a COVID-19 vaccine “when ethically flawless COVID-19 vaccines are not available.”

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called for vaccination “Act of charity towards the other members of our community”.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which has five counties, has approximately 1.3 million Catholics.

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