BOSTON — As COVID-19 case counts proceed to rise throughout Massachusetts, together with its faculties, a decision about whether or not to prolong the mask mandate in public faculties will probably be introduced next week, Education Commissioner Jeff Riley informed native college officers.
A Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spokeswoman confirmed Thursday morning that Riley knowledgeable college superintendents of his plans throughout a telephone name with them on (*25*).
In October, Riley notified college districts he was extending the mask requirement in Ok-12 public faculties by Jan. 15, citing consultations with medical consultants and state well being officers. Education Secretary James Peyser mentioned the extension represented “another big step forward in our efforts to keep schools safe for our kids” and would permit extra time for the elementary college college students to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine.
Education officers say masking, testing and vaccinations have made college environments secure, and Riley had deliberate final month to make a name on whether or not to carry or prolong the mask mandate however determined to wait.
“With the new arrival of omicron, it seems too soon to make a decision at this time,” Riley mentioned Dec. 17. “The medical community’s asked for some additional time so that we have better facts on the ground. They’re learning a lot very quickly about the omicron variant. We’ll wait and see, and see what the situation looks like in early January for a decision.”
Since then, COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations have exploded throughout Massachusetts. Schools have stayed open for probably the most half, though districts popping out of the vacation break are seeing extra virus-related absences which have sidelined college students, academics and the opposite help workers crucial to college features.
In October, when Riley final prolonged the mask mandate, state schooling officers reported 1,804 COVID-19 instances amongst college students in the course of the week of Oct. 14 by Oct. 20, and 350 amongst workers. In the latest report, overlaying the week of Dec. 16 by Dec. 22, 8,576 scholar instances had been reported and 1,544 amongst workers.
The next report on scholar and workers infections is due out later Thursday.
In the face of rising infections and an up to date mask advisory from state public well being officers, schooling officers have stood by their rule that enables the mask mandate to be lifted, on the discretion of native officers, at center and excessive faculties with 80 p.c of their college students and workers vaccinated.
According to the latest information out there, state schooling officers have accepted requests to carry the mask mandate from 31 faculties, with seven different requests nonetheless processing.
The Department of Public Health on Dec. 21 issued an advisory that recommends, however doesn’t require, all residents to put on masks in indoor public areas. Massachusetts had various types of a mask mandate in place for a lot of the primary yr in the course of the pandemic. DPH changed the mandate with an advisory in May, a couple of month earlier than Baker ended the COVID-19 state of emergency, and Baker has resisted calls to reinstitute a mask mandate.
“In response to the rise in cases and hospitalizations we are seeing in the Commonwealth and as we learn more about the emerging omicron variant, the Department of Public Health advises that all residents, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask or face covering when indoors and not in their own home,” state Health and Human Service Secretary Marylou Sudders mentioned final month when the advisory was reintroduced. “We particularly urge this recommendation if you have a weakened immune system or if you are at increased risk for severe disease because of your age or an underlying medical condition, or if someone in your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or unvaccinated.”
The mask advisory was issued on the identical day that Gov. Charlie Baker introduced he was activating a whole lot of Massachusetts National Guard personnel to help overwhelmed well being care suppliers and requiring hospitals to postpone or cancel non-essential elective procedures so as to protect hospital mattress capability.
The mask advisory instantly generated requires a mask mandate, and Baker on Dec. 21 defended the advisory partly by saying that individuals who have been each vaccinated and boosted in opposition to COVID-19 face an “extremely low” threat from the fast-spreading omicron variant.
School districts this yr are required to present in-person studying to all college students. The college mask mandate consists of exceptions for college students who can not put on a mask due to medical circumstances or behavioral wants.
In August, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education gave Riley the authority, at his request, to mandate masks for all public Ok-12 college students, educators, and workers by at the very least Oct. 1. So far, Riley has twice prolonged his preliminary mandate.
This is a growing story. Check again for updates as extra data turns into out there.
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