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DA will not prosecute those who refuse school masking

The county’s district attorney office will not prosecute parents or children for refusing to wear a mask at school, District Attorney Ryan Gardner recently announced.

Last Friday, Gardner released a statement explaining the office had no business prosecuting in these cases.

“The Department of Health’s Order of Aug. 31, 2021 is ambiguous with respect to enforcement,” Gardner said. “The decision whether to mask any child in school is best made between the parent and members of the school’s administration and not the Governor, law enforcement or the District Attorney’s Office.”

Barbara Hemmendinger, a retired family medicine educator and member of the Lycoming County Health Improvement Coalition, said she hopes individuals will follow the governor’s orders for the sake of public health.

“I would hope people would follow the state’s order and do what’s best for the health and safety for students, including the ones who are too young to be vaccinated, as well as the teaching staff and members of the school community,” Hemmendinger said.

However, Gardner also stated the office’s decision to not prosecute for failure to adhere to the mask mandate does not hinder school district’s ability to give detention, suspend students or expel them from school.

“This office has no control over the administrative consequences that some schools may choose to apply,” Gardner said.

“If they have unruly people, they need to consult with their own solicitors to determine how each board wants to handle students or parents who oppose the masking rule,” Hemmendinger said.

Gardner encouraged parents and students to remain composed, and that law enforcement may become involved for applicable criminal offenses.

“In other words, do not let your personal feelings about this topic manifest to the point where you become verbally or physically aggressive toward the individual requisition that you wear a mask,” Gardner said.

Further directives issued by President Joe Biden’s administration last week require greater protection against COVID-19 in the federal government and in workplaces.

“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Biden said. “And it’s caused by the fact that despite America having an unprecedented and successful vaccination program, despite the fact that for almost five months free vaccines have been available in 80,000 different locations, we still have nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot.”

Hemmendinger said there has been plenty of opportunities for people to voluntarily receive a vaccination.

“With cases climbing here, it’s a public health emergency and the only way to reduce the damage done by the pandemic is to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” Hemmendinger said.

Biden announced the Department of Labor was developing a rule that all employers with 100 or more employees would need to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated, or show a negative test at least once a week.

Additionally, Biden used federal authority to require vaccinations for those who work in hospitals, healthcare facilities or other medical facilities.

“If you’re seeking care at a health facility, you should be able to know that the people treating you are vaccinated,” Biden said.

Biden also required all executive branch federal employees and all federal contractors to be vaccinated.

Finally, employers with 100 or more workers will be required to give employees paid time off to get vaccinated.

“No one should lose pay in order to get vaccinated or take a loved one to get vaccinated,” Biden said.

Masks are mandated in federal buildings, on federal land and in transportation, and fines are now doubled for travelers who refuse to wear masks.

“What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see? We’ve made vaccinations free, safe, and convenient,” Biden said. “The vaccine has FDA approval. Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot.”

Hemmendinger said that numbers around the nation seem to be decreasing, indicating most of the United States has passed the peak of the delta variant. However, she said Pennsylvania’s numbers do not immediately reflect that trend, and remarked that all Pennsylvanian counties remain in the high level of transmission.

“We need to be vigilant here in Pennsylvania, especially in the rural parts of our state,” Hemmendinger said. “We need to encourage more people to get vaccinated.”

“I do believe mandated vaccination or weekly testing will make a difference in terms of the numbers of those who get immunized, in addition to voluntary vaccinations,” Hemmendinger said. “It’s going to move the needle.”

Lycoming County still sits in the high level of community virus transmission, and its case numbers and test positivity rate still outpace Union and Clinton Counties.

At a vaccination rate of 45.2%, in the past week Lycoming County has had 258.61 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, with a test positivity rate of 11.9%.

Meanwhile, Union County, with a vaccination rate of 50.9 percent, has in the past week reported 282.71 new cases per 100,000 people, and has a test positivity rate of 10.1 percent.

Finally, Clinton County, with a vaccination rate of 37.2%, shows in the past week 188.96 new cases per 100,000 people and a test-positivity rate of 7.03%.

The state currently leads the nation with a 56% vaccination rate compared to a 53.8% vaccination rate. However, the state’s 7-day total for COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people is 207.7 to the nation’s 286.2. The state’s week-long test positivity rate for COVID-19 is 9.1% to the nation’s 9.14%.

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