Gov. Baker announces lifting of mask mandate in Massachusetts public schools; local cities and towns may set own policies
Malden school officials will be facing a big decision soon, due to a major announcement on Tuesday by Gov. Charlie Baker. Gov. Baker held a press conference where he announced state officials are phasing out the mask mandates for students and staff in Massachusetts public schools as of Monday, February 28.
This means that as of Feb. 28, no one in the schools will be required to wear a protective mask as per previous COVID-19 protocols. Students and staff have been required to wear masks under state mandates since the declaration of the pandemic in March 2020.
Gov. Baker said, given the increasing availability of vaccines, antiviral treatments and rapid tests, “It’s time to give our kids a sense of normalcy and lift the mask mandate on a statewide basis for schools.”
Still, it will up to individual school districts to make their own decisions over whether wearing masks in their school buildings will – or will not – be continued. Students and staff will be allowed to continue to wear masks at their own personal discretion, regardless of what local districts decide.
In Malden, it is expected city and school officials, including Mayor Gary Christenson, who is also chairperson of the Malden School Committee, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ligia Noriega-Murphy, Health Department Director Chris Webb, members of the Malden School Committee and others will convene before that Feb. 28 edict date and decide which course will be pursued. The citywide mask mandate in Malden for indoor establishments was ordered to be lifted last week by Mayor Christenson, in a related decision.
In Malden and in most other cities and towns across the state, numbers of positive COVID-19 cases have plummeted steadily for the past several weeks, citywide and in the school district. In recent weeks, the number of cases reported in the 6,300-plus and nearly 500 staff population has been in the single digits in every school, well under 1% of the entire district population.
Some statewide medical experts have already spoken in favor of Gov. Baker’s announced lifting of the mask mandate. Massachusetts Medical Society President Carole Allen said in a statement published online Wednesday, “Cautiously relaxing in-school masking mandates … is appropriate,” though noting officials should be ready to reinstate the mask mandate should the COVID-19 virus surge again.
Two years into the pandemic, in general, there are public health officials and researchers across Massachusetts who often disagree sharply about prevention strategies, acceptable levels of risk and the definition of safety.
However, across all age groups, Massachusetts’s overall youth vaccination rates are well ahead of the national average, as Gov. Baker related this week. For instance, since the fall, roughly half of state residents ages five to 11 have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The numbers are around 60% for those ages 12-17 and a bit higher for ages 17-23.
There could be pushback in some communities regarding the lifting of the mask mandate. According to news reports on Wednesday, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced she had met with “70 of the top students in the Boston Public Schools” and that students had told her they prefer to continue the mask mandate in the BPS schools.