Pennsylvania sharpens mask mandate, orders virus testing

Covid. Pennsylvania requires that masks be worn indoors when households mingles, and is also requiring testing for out-of-state travelers.

| 18 Nov 2020 | 03:08

(AP) Pennsylvania is strengthening its mask mandate and will require out-of-state travelers to test negative for the coronavirus before arrival, health officials announced Tuesday, taking additional steps to address a sharp increase in infections and hospitalizations.

Masks are now required indoors wherever people from different households are gathered -- even if they are physically distant, the state health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, said Tuesday. The state said the order applies to every indoor facility, including private homes, but Levine acknowledged that officials are relying on voluntary compliance rather than on enforcement.

Levine’s order also mandates that people who are traveling to Pennsylvania from another state, as well as Pennsylvania residents who are returning from out of state, must test negative for the virus within 72 days prior to arrival. The order does not apply to people traveling back and forth for work or medical treatment. People who refuse to be tested will be required to quarantine for 14 days, Levine said.

Again, the state has no plans to enforce that measure, but is asking for voluntary compliance.

The departments of Health and Education also advised colleges and universities on Tuesday to have a testing plan for students returning to campus after the holidays.

Like the rest of the nation, Pennsylvania has seen coronavirus infections explode in recent weeks. The state is reporting more than 5,000 new infections per day, up more than 115% in just two weeks, and hospitalizations and the percentage of tests coming back positive are up sharply. Deaths are on the rise, as well.

Governors and mayors around the country have been tightening restrictions in response to the worsening pandemic. On Monday, Philadelphia said it would ban indoor gatherings and indoor dining and shutter casinos, gyms, museums and libraries.

Pennsylvania already had a statewide mask mandate, limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings and occupancy restrictions at bars and restaurants.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf imposed a state-at-home order and shuttered businesses deemed “non-life-sustaining’’ early in the pandemic, but Wolf and Levine have consistently said they have no intention of implementing another broad-based shutdown.