The Lead

State health officials welcome students back to school, urge districts to utilize testing resources

By: - August 23, 2021 5:00 pm

Acting Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson (Screenshot).

As many schools in Pennsylvania begin to welcome students’ return to the classroom, state officials reiterated the need for schools and individuals to follow federal guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Speaking to reporters at Mt. Lebanon School District, in Allegheny County, on Monday, state and local officials were notably celebratory in their remarks. 

Education Secretary Noe Ortega (Capital-Star Screen Capture).

“We’re excited for them and looking forward to a new academic year filled with opportunity, innovation, and growth,” Secretary of Education Dr. Noe Ortega said, adding that “It’s been far too long” since children and teachers have been in classrooms. 

Dr. Timothy J. Steinhauer, superintendent of the Mt. Lebanon School District, added that “having our students back in the buildings full-time with our amazing faculty and staff is a very satisfying occasion.”

Steinhauer, whose district opted to implement a universal masking mandate, said the district is “well-positioned” to combat COVID-19 this school year in the hopes of maintaining in-person instruction. 

Steinhauer said that while the district has opted to begin the school year with a masking requirement, it is open to changing that policy should factors such as community transmission rates allow for a more relaxed approach. 

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald applauded the district for its efforts to reopen for in-person instruction in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. 

“We know it can be done, and we know it can be done safely,” Fitzgerald said. 

Acting Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson urged school districts across Pennsylvania to take advantage of the “unique opportunity” for testing and on-site vaccinations, unveiled by state officials earlier this month. 

As school begins, state officials offer optional vaccination, testing initiatives to districts


“This school year, let’s take advantage of the additional tools in the toolbox to fight diseases and keep Pennsylvania children safe in the classroom, sports and other activities,” Johnson said. 

Additionally, Johnson reiterated the need for students to receive their mandatory immunizations.

“Immunizations are a safe and effective way to protect yourself and your children from a number of serious, life-threatening diseases. Getting your immunizations can help protect those around you, including people with compromised immune systems who cannot get vaccinated. If you have a child aged 12 or older, make sure they get a COVID-19 vaccine before heading back to school,” Johnson said. 

Pennsylvania reported 7,652 new cases of COVID-19 between Saturday, Aug. 21 and Monday, Aug. 22 for a total of 1,269,555 since the pandemic began in 2020. The state also reported 17 new fatalities, for a total of 28,076 since the start of the pandemic. 

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.