By Stephanie Stahl

HARRISBURG, Pa. (CBS) – Reversing course Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced a mask mandate in Pennsylvania for all schools and licensed child care centers. The new requirement will take effect on Tuesday, Sept. 7, the day after Labor Day.

It requires students, teachers and staff to wear masks when inside school buildings.

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This is something the Wolf Administration wanted to avoid, but the sky-rocketing number of COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania compelled the governor to take action.

“We have to act now to protect our students and our teachers, we need to put politics aside, we need to get back to what matters, keeping students safe and keeping students in the classroom,” Wolf said.

In announcing the mask mandate, Wolf said it was a necessary reaction to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases driven by the Delta variant, with Pennsylvania now averaging more than 3,200 new cases daily.

The new mandate is being officially issued by Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam.

“The number of cases among Pennsylvania kids 0-17 rose by 277% between July and August,” Beam said. “That’s nearly a 300% jump in six weeks in Pennsylvania and remember half of those kids are not old enough to get vaccinated.”

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Less than a month ago, Gov. Wolf ruled out a statewide mask mandate for schools, hoping local school districts would act, but there hasn’t been unified support and protests have erupted among people against mask requirements.

“Doing nothing right now to stop COVID that’s just not an option. Doing nothing is going to mean more sick kids, mean more days out of school, more grief, and more problems for our economy,” Wolf said.

While acknowledging the would-be opponents, the governor presented a long list of support for the school mask mandate, including teachers’ unions and medical groups.

“The return to in-person school is crucial to our children’s educational and mental health,” American Academy of Pediatrics Dr. Trude Haecker said.

State officials pointed to schools that are already open without mask mandates, where there’s been a quick spread of COVID-19. The new mask mandate will apply to all public and private schools and daycare centers.

It will not apply to student-athletes while they’re playing.

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Gov. Wolf admitted Pennsylvania might be a little late with the school mask mandate, which are already in place in New Jersey, Delaware and Philadelphia.

Stephanie Stahl