(WKBN) – The American Federation of Teachers in Pennsylvania is imploring the state’s Department of Education to pause in-person learning or mandate enhanced COVID-19 mitigation until the current surge of cases subsides.

The union issued a statement Friday after a record-setting number of COVID-19 infections were recorded over the last 24 hours.

The union said its districts are now facing staff shortages due to outbreaks, and the number of students testing positive is topping 40% in some areas.

“Educators and other school staff want to be in classrooms; that is where they do their best work and can tend to the academic, social, and emotional needs of students. But this virus, especially the current surge, has made it nearly impossible to deliver the services our educators are tasked with delivering,” the statement read.

The union is asking for negotiated vaccination mandates for educators and staff, masking requirements with KN95 masks or greater, and asymptomatic and pool testing of students and staff regardless of vaccination status.

“If these layers of mitigation cannot be instituted in a timely manner, we believe there is no choice but to pause in-person learning for two school weeks,” the union stated.

The state’s Department of Education released the following statement on Monday.

The administration’s top priority from the beginning of this pandemic has been and remains protecting public health and safety, including students and staff, so the administration urges school districts to prioritize the health and safety of their students and staff when making decisions ​to ensure that in-person learning continues safely.

The Wolf Administration is committed to offering guidance and resources to support and help protect school communities during this pandemic, including testing opportunities free of charge for schools.

The administration also continues to urge all eligible Pennsylvanians to get vaccinated, get boosted, and take your children ages 5 and older to get vaccinated. Appointments are available statewide for Pennsylvanians ages 5 and older for their primary series and 12+ for their Pfizer booster shot 5 months after completing the primary series. Vaccines are safe, effective, and readily available across Pennsylvania. Visit vaccines.gov to find an appointment.

Also, masking is a proven and simple way to keep kids in school without interruption and participate in sports and other extra-curricular activities. Universal masking in schools, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend, reduces the risk that entire classrooms will need to quarantine due to a positive COVID-19 case.