Catholic schools and parishes in the City of Philadelphia are preparing for a new mask mandate due to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases.

First implemented in March 2020 as a safety response to the deadly virus that swept across the world, the requirement to wear masks at schools in the city only became optional on March 9 of this year.

After the city announced the mandatory return of masks for all indoor public spaces on Monday, April 11, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia responded with guidelines this week.

Masks will be required for students of all archdiocesan high schools as well as elementary schools and schools of special education located in Philadelphia when classes resume after the Easter break on Tuesday, April 19, according to a letter dated April 13 by leadership of the Catholic schools.

It was signed by Irene Horstmann Hannan of Faith in the Future Foundation; Nancy Kurtz, interim superintendent for secondary Schools; and Andrew McLaughlin, secretary for Elementary Education.

They expressed gratitude to school families, faculty and staff for working to make schools safe “during some of the most challenging circumstances we have seen in generations.”

“It is our hope that the city will rescind this requirement as soon as possible,” they wrote.

Existing COVID-19 protocols such as social distancing, increased ventilation and enhanced cleaning will also remain in effect in the schools.

“We continue, in the strongest possible terms, to encourage all students and staff to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine and booster,” the leaders wrote.

Catholic churches in Philadelphia also received guidance on the restrictions, which first came into effect in March 2020 and remained until June 11, 2021.

Beginning Easter Monday, April 18, all churches in Philadelphia – not those in the four suburban counties of the Philadelphia Archdiocese – should inform parishioners they are “strongly encouraged” to wear a face mask, “whether vaccinated or not, in the body of the church,” according to a memo by Father Dennis Gill, director of the archdiocesan Office for Divine Worship, sent to all parishes and institutions in the archdiocese.

If people do wear a face mask, “it is to be removed before the reception of the Body of Christ at the Communion of the Mass,” the memo read.

Priests, deacons and liturgical ministers are not to wear a mask in the sanctuary during liturgies, the memo read.