About an hour after downplaying the need for another statewide shutdown over COVID-19, the Wolf administration ordered all Pennsylvanians to wear a mask anytime they leave their homes.
The order, which applies to all public spaces, comes on the eve of Independence Day weekend approaches, and amid a recent uptick in cases.
“This mask-wearing order is essential to stopping the recent increase in COVID-19 cases we have seen in Pennsylvania,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement Wednesday.
He linked coronavirus hot spots to “situations where Pennsylvanians were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing.”
The masking order was signed by Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine Wednesday afternoon. A bandana or other makeshift mask agrees with the order.
Wolf announced the new order via press release at 3 p.m.. He had been fielding questions about the virus at a 1:30 p.m. press conference earlier. At that presser, Wolf had said the state was doing “really well” in addressing the disease.
Wolf said he’d defer decisions about whether to re-close businesses or implement other social distancing measures to local governments.
“The way things are going to work we don’t want to take these broad, draconian steps,” Wolf said. “The best way to handle this is to say, ‘do we have a specific problem here, specific to us.’”
Before Wednesday’s new masking order, Pennsylvanians were only required to wear a mask when entering businesses. Otherwise, the state encouraged, but did not mandate, wearing masks outside of the home.
The order includes limited exceptions for someone with a medical condition, those who cannot remove the mask themselves, or for whom they cannot work safely with a mask. If you can keep a six foot distance from others outdoors, you also do not have to wear a mask. There are no exceptions for exercise.
How the order will be enforced is now up to state and local authorities.
Since the start of the pandemic, Wolf has consistently said his preference is for voluntary compliance without heavy enforcement.
So far, state police have only issued citations to three businesses and seven individuals for violating COVID-19 health policies.
Pennsylvania had 636 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday according to the Department of Health, for a total of 87,242 total cases since March 6. There were 38 new deaths due to COVID-19 bringing that total to 6,697.
According to data collected by Spotlight PA, an online nonprofit newsroom, new cases per day have steadily increased since June 17, with few exceptions.
Wolf is not alone in increasing public health restrictions in light of the rise in cases. Allegheny County, for instance, ordered bars and restaurants to stop serving alcohol as of 6 p.m. Tuesday, after a spike in cases locally. Philadelphia has put the brakes on its plan to reopen indoor dining and gyms. But Wolf doesn’t foresee another statewide shutdown, he said Wednesday.
Speaking Wednesday, Wolf said he prefers to let local municipalities make decisions based on their specific circumstances.
He added that he wants “local folks to feel that they have the ability to take control of the things they have to control in their area.”