Massachusetts issues mandate requiring masks in schools
BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeff Riley issued new regulations Wednesday requiring all public school students ages 5 and above, and all staffers, to wear masks indoors while at school.
All visitors are also expected to wear masks in school buildings. Masks are not required when outdoors.
The regulations take effect immediately and come a day after the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education gave Riley the authority to issue a mask mandate for K-12 public schools.
The requirement will remain in place until at least Oct. 1 and could be revised in light of new public health data.
State education officials are strongly recommending students younger than 5 also wear masks in school. Students and staff who cannot wear a mask for medical reasons, and students who cannot wear a mask for behavioral reasons, are exempted.
The mask requirement applies when students and staff are indoors, except when eating or drinking, or during mask breaks. Mask breaks should happen when windows are open or students are outdoors, with meals and outdoor recess providing built-in mask breaks.
Under the new regulations, masks may also be removed indoors to participate in some activities, such as the use of wind instruments in band, although schools are urged to consider using “instrument masks” or holding those classes outdoors.
Masks are also required for student-athletes and coaches when indoors, under guidance from the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Although students are responsible for bringing their own masks, disposable masks should be made available by the school for students who need them. By federal public health order, all students and staff are also required to wear masks on school buses.
Whether to discipline a student for failing to wear a mask is a decision left to local school districts, although the state is urging local education officials look for alternatives before resorting to disciplinary action.
After Oct. 1, if a school demonstrates a vaccination rate of 80% or more for students and staff, then vaccinated individuals in that school would no longer be subject to the mask requirement.
The mandate marks a shift for Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration, which had previously left face covering decisions up to individual districts. It also comes as the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to drive up case counts around the state.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association has also welcomed the mask requirement.
VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS
The confirmed COVID-19 caseload in Massachusetts since the start of the pandemic rose to more than 700,000 Wednesday as the delta variant pushes up the number of infected residents.
The number of new cases of COVID-19 increased by 1,400 Wednesday while the number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts rose by three.
The new numbers pushed the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 17,828.
There were about 570 people reported hospitalized Wednesay because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with about 140 in intensive care units.
The average age of those who have died from COVID-19 was 75.
The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.
More than 4.4 million people in Massachusetts have been fully immunized against COVID-19.
SENATE VACCINATION REQUIREMENT
All 40 Massachusetts state senators as well as their staff will have to provide of proof of vaccination against COVID-19 by mid-October.
“Vaccines have proven to be the best tool we have to reduce transmission and are our best hope to emerge from this pandemic,” Senate President Karen Spilka told colleagues in a letter Tuesday, The Boston Globe reported.
The mandate applies to about 250 lawmakers and staffers. Senate employees face termination if they refuse vaccines, according to Spilka. A compliance policy, which will include limited medical and religious exemptions as well as enforcement mechanisms, are still being formulated.
Gov. Charlie Baker last week required vaccinations for 44,000 executive department employees and contractors.
The offices of the state attorney general, auditor and treasurer, as well as the state court system, have announced some version of a vaccine mandate for their workers.
The Massachusetts House is also expected to issue some kind of vaccination requirement, a spokesperson for House Speaker Ronald Mariano said last week.
Students who attend schools operated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston will be required to wear face coverings when the new academic year starts, church leaders said Wednesday.
The mask requirement will last until Oct. 1 and is in line with masking regulations for the state’s public schools.
“At that time, we will evaluate our policy moving forward reflecting on state and federal guidance, updated health data, and input from schools and parents,” the archdiocese said.
The indoor mask mandate for students, staff and faculty applies to 69 schools operated by the archdiocese, and is recommended for another 31 Catholic schools that are either independent or operated by a religious order.