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Philadelphia schools will require masks as U.S. COVID cases spike


Students play outside at recess as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions are lifted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., March 8, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah Beier

Children in Philadelphia will have to wear face coverings at school for 10 days after their winter break, school officials said, as communities around the country contend with another surge of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses.

The temporary mandate, which will run from Jan. 3-13, is aimed at reducing the spread of respiratory illnesses after a holiday season likely filled with more social gatherings and increased exposure, the district said in a statement on Thursday.

Some state and local agencies around the United States are rolling out mask mandates or recommendations this month to fight a new surge in virus cases, which is expected to grow as Americans travel and socialize around the winter holidays.

Health experts say the U.S. healthcare system is under strain because of a “tridemic” caused by COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha said on Thursday the country was probably experiencing its worst flu season in a decade.

The White House on Thursday announced that American families could once again order free COVID-19 tests from the government website due to the nationwide rise in cases. read more

But nearly three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer localities are rushing to enforce strict mandates than in previous years. There is debate over their efficacy, as months of stringent public health rules early in the pandemic have exacerbated the public’s COVID fatigue and stoked political controversy.

The State University of New York at Purchase announced on Tuesday that indoor masking was again required, citing a level of “high transmission” of the virus locally.

The Sacramento Unified School District in California said on Dec. 5 that if community transmission returned to high levels, then masks would be required indoors.

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county would impose an indoor mask mandate if the community-level spread became “high” by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s standards, which look at new COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases in relation to a total population.

New York City’s Health Commissioner last week “strongly urged” New Yorkers to wear masks in public indoor settings and crowded outdoor places, even though community transmission there is already “high” by the CDC’s standards.