The gist: Everyone was hoping that the new school year would herald a return to normality. So much for that.

Educators knew already they were confronting unprecedented challenges: Assessing the fallout of interrupted learning; dealing with emotional needs. Then along came the delta variant. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf issued an order requiring all schoolchildren to wear masks, but it came with no plans for enforcement, and met immediate GOP resistance in the legislature.

The return to classrooms comes as daily case counts in the Philadelphia region continue to climb. That’s left more people seeking COVID-19 tests, but local hospitals say they have the capacity to handle the surge if it worsens.

— Anthony R. Wood (@woodt15, health@inquirer.com)

What you need to know:

🗳️ Mask and vaccine mandates have broad support, polls show, but not among some Pennsylvania Republicans.

🏠 The eviction moratorium has ended, but renters in the Philly region still are awaiting millions in rental assistance. But tenants do have legal recourse.

🏥 Some states are struggling with intensive-care unit capacities, but so far Pennsylvania and New Jersey hospitals are doing OK.

💉 As the delta variant spreads and anxieties rise, more people in the Philadelphia region are getting COVID-19 tests. “A lot of things are happening right now,” says a public health expert.

🎸 Planning on attending the Made in America Festival? Proof of vaccination will be required, and here’s what else you need to know.

Local coronavirus numbers

📈The Inquirer and Spotlight PA are compiling geographic data on confirmed coronavirus cases, deaths caused by the virus, and vaccinations to curb the spread. Track the latest data here.

This was supposed to be the return-to-normal school year. It’s going to be anything but.

Imir Byrd is wearing a Batman mask. At long last he is entering first grade at Powel Elementary School, after spending his kindergarten career on a laptop. “He recognized his friends,” his mother said — “from Zoom.”

Welcome to the first day of school 2021-style.

Do you really need a COVID-19 booster shot? Experts disagree.

It sounded like a done deal two weeks ago: the Biden administration’s plan to provide COVID-19 booster shots to fully vaccinated people beginning Sept. 20. But then many scientists criticized the plan as unnecessary and even unethical. And the CDC’s independent vaccine advisory committee said the evidence on boosters for all is not yet clear. Confused? Here are some answers.

Helpful resources

A dose of diversion: This won’t be on school lunch menus

Scrapple is a breakfast staple among Philadelphians, and it turns out that it has a versatile side. If you’re so inclined, you might even try scrapple okonomiyaki, not exactly a Philadelphia tradition. As for what’s in scrapple, thank you for not asking.

🍺 Looking for something to wash down your scrapple? Check out our Oktoberfest guide.

✨ Labor Day weekend can be a labor of fun in Philly.

🎭 Meet Jabari Banks, cast as Will in a dramatic reboot of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Have a tip or question to share? Let us know at health@inquirer.com and your input might be featured in a future edition of this newsletter.

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