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School Mask Mandate Extended to November
Staff Reports,
11:01AM / Tuesday, September 28, 2021
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BOSTON — The mask requirement in schools has been extended out another month. 
 
Public school children aged 5 and older and all staff will have to wear masks inside school buildings until at least Nov. 1, with certain exemptions.
 
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in August declared "exigent circumstances" and authorized the Commissioner Jeffrey Riley to institute universal masking based on a sudden rise in COVID-19 cases throughout the state near the end of July. 
 
The mandate was put in place until at least Oct. 1. On Monday, Riley determined to extend the mask requirement "after consulting with medical experts and state health officials." 
 
The mask mandate for vaccinated individuals will be lifted when 80 percent or more of all students and staff in a school are vaccinated.
 
This would not be able to be applied in elementary schools because children under the age of 12 cannot yet be vaccinated. 
 
Counties are now ranging between 63 and 104 percent of eligible individuals vaccinated, with Berkshire County about 73 percent. 
 
Vaccination of those 16-19 are varied throughout the state, Chelsea a high at 81 percent , according to Riley's presentation to the DESE Board of Education. There are also high rates of vaccination for that age group in Berkshire County as of Sept. 16, with low-rate outliers in the hilltowns and parts of South Berkshires.
 
In addition to masking, schools are also using social distancing of at least 3-feet and testing protocols, including the "test and stay" guidelines that can reduce quarantine times for those exposed to the novel coronavirus, to maintain in-person learning.
 
According to Riley, the test-and-stay protocol saved roughly 1,000 in-person school days last week, including 450 on Friday alone.
 
The mask guidance hasn't changed: It calls for mask breaks outside or when classroom windows can be opened, and when eating. Masks are also required on buses as part of the federal mandate requiring masks on public transportation.
 
Pfizer and BioNTech have been reporting good trial results in vaccine doses for children ages 5 to 11. These results have been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration. 
 
Currently, only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is fully approved by the FDA for use in individuals age 16 and older; other vaccines and use in those 12 to 16 is by FDA emergency authorization. Booster shots for the Pfizer vaccine were authorized last week for certain at-risk groups.
 
Massachusetts is one of the leading regions in vaccination rates at about 72 percent, not far behind Vermont and Puerto Rico.
 
The Baker administration has mandated vaccines for 42,000 state employees and health care workers but has declined to order one for educators despite support from the Massachusetts Teachers Association. Public colleges and universities, and many private ones, have instituted vaccine and masking mandates. 
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