Pennsylvanians will no longer be required to wear masks beginning Monday, state health officials announced, marking another step in the commonwealth’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic after 16 months of restrictions and more than 27,000 residents’ deaths.
Pennsylvania is the last jurisdiction in the region to lift the long-standing mandate, with mask orders already lifted in Philadelphia and New Jersey. The need to wear face coverings was one of the most visible ways the pandemic transformed daily life. It only becomes possible to remove them thanks to the coronavirus vaccines.
Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said at the end of May that the order would be lifted by June 28, or earlier, if 70% of adult Pennsylvanians became fully vaccinated. But as of Friday, only 59% of residents 18 and older had completed their inoculations, though 75% had gotten at least one shot.
“We are continuing to make progress toward stopping the spread of COVID-19 throughout the commonwealth,” she said Friday in a statement, “as many Pennsylvanians have taken responsibility for their own health and the health of their communities by getting vaccinated.”
The lifting of the state mask mandate is largely symbolic for vaccinated people, whom the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last month no longer needed to wear masks outdoors or in most indoor settings. Since then, many of the region’s private businesses have made face coverings optional for those who have gotten their shots, relying on an honor system.
But the end of the mandate means unvaccinated people can also stop wearing masks — though state health officials urged them to continue masking in public. The virus is still circulating, and anyone who is unvaccinated is at risk of contracting it if exposed. Vaccines remain readily available, often on a walk-in basis, at pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics throughout the region.
And all Pennsylvanians must wear masks when required by businesses, hospitals, health-care facilities, long-term care homes, correctional facilities, and shelters, which can choose to require everyone to wear them.
Nationwide, about a dozen states still have mandates requiring unvaccinated people to be masked indoors, according to data tracking by the AARP. Some states never imposed mask mandates.
In both Philadelphia and New Jersey, masks remain required in some situations, such as on public transit and in health-care settings.
This spring, Pennsylvania officials held up lifting the mask mandate as an incentive for residents to get vaccinated: When 70% of the state’s adults were vaccinated, health officials would end the requirement.
By the end of May, the state had reached 70% of adults with at least one dose, meaning the same share should be fully vaccinated by the end of June, when everyone with only one dose would’ve had a second appointment.
Instead, the state is just shy of 60% of adults fully vaccinated, which means some residents have skipped their second shots.
Only Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut have fully vaccinated 70% or more of their adult residents, according to the CDC. New Jersey is nearing 68%.
Philadelphia, which has set its own restrictions throughout the pandemic, had lifted all of its mask requirements on June 11. City officials strongly recommend that unvaccinated people continue wearing masks indoors.
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Pennsylvania first issued mask guidance on April 15, 2020, when it mandated that businesses require employees and customers to wear them, falling in line with evolving federal guidance about how to curb the spread of the virus. Last July, as cases rose, the commonwealth made masks mandatory whenever anyone left their home and couldn’t maintain social distancing.
Pennsylvania fully reopened on May 31, lifting remaining business and crowd limitations. The mask mandate was the last major pandemic restriction in place.