Governor Tom Wolf announced that wearing masks was a requirement, not an option, when entering any business in the commonwealth in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – even in counties that have entered the green phase of reopening.
In as statement released Tuesday, Wolf, who has stressed the importance of wearing facial coverings to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus for months, reiterated their stance on the matter as Pennsylvania counties progress through the governor’s reopening strategy.
"As most counties are in or will soon be in the green phase of reopening, mask-wearing is a vital measure to help stop the spread of COVID-19," Wolf said. "Pennsylvania has emerged as a leader among states for reduced cases amid increased reopening and we want that to continue to keep people safe and healthy while returning to many of the activities we enjoyed before COVID."
Both Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine have routinely pointed out that mitigation efforts, including social distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing, were integral to the success of Pennsylvania’s phased reopening. Case counts have been on a downward trend in the commonwealth, while other states, most notably Florida, have seen record increases.
As of Tuesday, all 67 of the commonwealth’s counties are in either the yellow or green phase of reopening. Monroe and Pike counties entered the green phase less than a week ago on June 19.
"Pennsylvania has been a model for the country on how to reopen effectively using a careful, measured approach," Levine said. "However, the virus has not gone away. Each of us has a responsibility to continue to protect ourselves, our loved ones and others by wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing and washing our hands frequently."
According to a release from the governor’s office, the mask requirement falls under Levine’s order, "Directing Public Health Safety Measures for Businesses Permitted to Maintain In-person Operations," which applies to all counties in the state, regardless of the phase of reopening.
The order directs businesses to enforce the wearing of masks by all customers while on the premises, with exceptions provided for those with underlying heath conditions, along with children under the age of two. In cases where the business provides medication, medical supplies or food, the business must supply alternative methods of pick-up or delivery.
Employees must be provided with masks to wear while working, and those masks must remain on during work hours, outside of an employee using a break to eat or drink.
A recent study reported by the Institute of Physics notes that wearing a facial covering can reduce community exposures from asymptomatic, but unknowingly infectious, individuals.
The study notes that while some individuals may consider the practice ineffective or otherwise burdensome, it "is an altruistic act serving not only as a form of enhanced cough or sneeze etiquette, but also to reduce the aerosols emitted from normal breathing or when talking."
The authors of the study pointed out that in lieu of daily testing for COVID-19, no one can be sure that they are not affected by the virus, and that masks are a simple way to help combat the pandemic.
On Sunday, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams contested the idea that mask-wearing violates a person’s freedoms – one of the most common arguments against the practice – stating on Twitter, "Some feel face coverings infringe on their freedom of choice – but if more wear them, we’ll have MORE freedom to go out."
When State Senator Mario Scavello (R-40) announced the reopening of his district offices for in-person visits via Twitter last week, he did note that his staff would be following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which include social distancing and mask-wearing.
"Office staff will be following CDC guidelines and social distancing. We request that if you come into the office that you wear a mask and if you do not feel well, please stay home," a tweet from Scavello’s account reads. "Our offices do have a limited supply of masks and gloves on-hand in addition to hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. We ask for your patience and understanding as we reopen to serve you."
Many other Republican lawmakers have included similar notifications in announcements for their own office reopenings, or otherwise supported mask-wearing.
Local representatives including Jack Rader (R-176) have shared the governor’s advice, informing their constituents that they should wear masks in public, and that "they should be homemade cloth masks and not the surgical masks used by our health care workers and first responders."
Representative Rosemary Brown (R-189) shared a video tutorial on making homemade masks via her social media accounts in April.
"We received so many questions on where to get them, directions, etc," Brown said in a Facebook post. "We wanted to show you that all you need is an old t-shirt and scissors! Please be safe and remember: ’my mask protects you and your mask protects me.’"
However, some individuals, including Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-12), have strongly opposed any and all mask-wearing orders.
On Tuesday, Metcalfe called out the Bipartisan Management Committee’s recently adopted policy to mandate that legislators wear masks, stating that it was hypocritical of the "’my body, my choice crowd’ who support abortion on demand" that are supposedly advocating for mask-wearing to impose their views on others.
"Although ‘my body, my choice’ really does apply to wearing a face mask, it is a fact that throughout the course of COVID-19, guidance on wearing face masks has been conflicting," Metcalfe said. "Let me be clear that neither the governor, BMC or any level of government has the authority to force citizens to wear face masks. Wearing a mask in this committee meeting remains the choice of the individual. Your body, your choice!"
State Senator Doug Mastriano (R-33) has also been quite vocal in his opposition to Wolf and the mask order, tweeting on June 19 that "Wearing a mask is no longer about safety, but about Governor Wolf’s autocratic control over your life. After coming under scrutiny for double standards & hypocritical behavior, the Governor issued more conflicted guidance demanding that masks be worn."
Wolf, on the other hand has remained resolute in his mission to make mask-wearing part of the "new normal," continually stressing the message that "my mask protects you, and your mask protects me."
"Mask-wearing needs to be a part of our everyday routines," Wolf said. "When you leave the house, grab your keys, your wallet and your mask. Mask-wearing has proven to be an important deterrent to the spread of the virus and keeping Pennsylvanians safe and healthy is the goal as we reopen and continue our mitigation efforts."