- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Students in the Philadelphia area will return to school under a mask mandate even though much of the country has moved on from COVID-19 rules and the U.S. enjoys a better virus posture than in previous winters.

The school district in Pennsylvania’s largest city is requiring face coverings from Tuesday to Jan. 13 in an attempt to stymie respiratory illnesses after family gatherings over the holidays.

Across the Delaware River, the school district in Camden, New Jersey, is requiring masks from Tuesday to Jan. 17 to try and stop COVID-19, the flu and another virus known as RSV.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said voluntary mask-wearing would help to corral the trifecta of viruses, though some questioned whether there is evidence that face coverings can thwart all the pathogens.

Paterson Public Schools in northern New Jersey said masks will be required as of Tuesday.

“I know this is a relief to some, and a frustration to others. No matter what your position may be, I ask for your cooperation,” Superintendent Eileen Shafer said in a letter to parents.

Many places have moved on from COVID-19 rules, so the return to mandates will be jarring for some Americans.

After devastating winters in early 2021 and 2022, the U.S. is on a better pace this time around as it enjoys built-up immunity from prior infections and vaccinations, while deploying COVID-19 treatments such as Paxlovid.

Nearly 45,000 people are hospitalized for COVID-19 in the U.S., though it is a far cry from the 130,000 admitted around this time in 2021 and over 100,000 at this time in 2021.

Schools in Boston are pushing masks but not requiring them. The district said it would like students and staff to mask up through Jan. 13.

“This is our ask and expectation of students and staff, not a mandate — which will be in effect during the school day on school premises and school buses. BPS will provide disposable face masks to students or staff who need them. No one will be disciplined or sent home if they refuse to wear a mask,” Superintendent Mary Skipper wrote in a Dec. 30 letter.

Similarly, New York City Mayor Eric Adams recently advised city residents to wear masks in public as a precaution.

Northeast leaders are preaching caution as progress on the COVID-19 front is tempered by the surges in flu and RSV.

Scientists believe the lack of exposure to flu and RSV amid COVID-19 restrictions reduced overall immunity to the viruses until now.

In mid-December, an elementary in Washington state required masks after one-third of students were absent with a respiratory illness.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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