HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Pennsylvania reverses course and has issued a mask mandate for K-12 schools.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday that masks will be required in all Pennsylvania K-12 schools. The order takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021.  

Wolf said he intended to have local school boards make the decision but changed his mind.

“Unfortunately, an aggressive nationwide campaign is spreading misinformation about mask-wearing and pressuring and intimidating school districts to reject mask policies that will keep kids safe and in school. As we see cases among children increase in Pennsylvania and throughout the country, this is especially dangerous and challenging as we seek to keep kids in school and maintain a safe and healthy learning environment,” Wolf said.

Wolf also said he has been hearing from parents who want the mask mandate.

“My office has received an outpouring of messages from parents asking the administration to protect all children by requiring masks in schools,” Wolf said. “The science is clear. The Delta variant is highly transmissible and dangerous to the unvaccinated, many of whom are children too young to receive the vaccine. Requiring masks in schools will keep our students safer and in the classroom, where we all want them to be.”

The state is taking action amid a statewide resurgence of COVID-19 that is filling hospital beds just as students return to class.

Pennsylvania health officials said the Delta variant has been a driving force of the pandemic since the end of the previous school year. The variant is more contagious than the original strain of the virus, accounting for more than 92 percent of current COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania.

Since July when schools first began discussing health and safety plans, Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 caseload has increased from less than 300 a day to more than 3,000 a day – with cases among school-aged children increasing by more than 11,000 in the last month, and by more than 79,000 from January 2021 to August 2021.

Department of Health Acting Secretary Alison Beam called out districts in Pennsylvania that are not implementing mask requirements and issued the order Tuesday forcing them to adopt the policy.