Aug. 31, 2021

HARRISBURG — Rep. Jason Ortitay (R-Washington/Allegheny) issued the following statement in response to the governor’s school and day care mask mandate:

“Earlier today, Department of Health Acting Secretary Alison Beam issued a statewide mask mandate for all schools, public and private, for grades K-12, and child care centers to begin on Sept. 7. The administration referenced authority granted under the Disease Prevention and Control Law, which is separate from the emergency declaration the governor used earlier in the pandemic and before the emergency declaration constitutional amendment was adopted in May. There are only two ways this new order can end: either through a withdrawal by the secretary or a court order.

“News of this announcement was given to members of the Legislature about a half hour before Gov. Tom Wolf held his press conference. The governor has been consistently saying for months that he would not implement any statewide mask mandates until last week when he slowly started to change his position.

“During today’s press conference, a disheartening show of partisan fear tactics was seen in Acting Secretary Beam’s use of percentages, mentioning a 270% increase of COVID-19 infection in ages 0-17 at one point and then a 300% increase at another point without providing actual numbers. I am disappointed to see the acting secretary use these tactics to scare people. She should have given the actual numbers.

“Throughout the summer, school boards have had public discussions, obtained feedback and spent a lot of time putting in place their back-to-school plans, which were all submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. With school underway in many districts, today’s order essentially erases all of that work and input. I do believe masking should be a local issue, along with other mitigation strategies. Masking is only one strategy and often gets the most discussion and causes the most conflict. There are other strategies that can and should be implemented. Things like holding classes outdoors, renting large open-air spaces/canopies for classes, organizing classes based upon where people live, using multi-grade classrooms, bringing in temporary buildings or even renting local buildings to allow smaller class sizes. These, combined with voluntary COVID-19 testing, which the state already has a contract to pay for in every school, and increased vaccinations in the community will help slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Another tactic would be to treat age group in schools differently. Divide them into groups of ages 5 and under, 6-11, and 12+. Mitigation strategies should be different in each group as children of different ages react differently to masking, buildings are different, and exposure to other children in other age groups is minimal. The state and school boards could look further into this approach as they have done in other countries. Special care and consideration should also be given to those students who are more vulnerable and have existing medical conditions.

“I know we all want things to go back to normal as quickly as possible, but ideas and alternative strategies like those mentioned above can be more effective than universal masking, still allow children to have in-person education, allow for interaction with other students and slow the spread of COVID-19. We just might need to do it with a little more creativity than what has been presented so far.”

The 46th Legislative District includes Collier and South Fayette townships and Bridgeville, Heidelberg, McDonald and Oakdale boroughs in Allegheny County. It also encompasses Canton, Cecil, Mt. Pleasant, Robinson and Smith townships and Burgettstown, McDonald and Midway boroughs in Washington County.

Representative Jason Ortitay
46th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Tracy Polovick
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