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State Extends School Mask Mandate Into January 2022
01:59PM / Wednesday, October 27, 2021
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MALDEN, Mass. — The mask mandate in schools has been extended through Jan. 15, 2022. This is the second time the mandate has been extended since it was put in place in August in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases. The latest date for it to be lifted was Monday, Nov. 1.
State officials believe this extension will give time for students age 11 and younger to be vaccinated. 
On Tuesday, a panel of advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended emergency authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be administered to children ages 5 to 11. Pfizer provided data that it says shows the vaccine was safe for those ages and 90.7 percent effective in preventing infections, including for the Delta variant. The FDA has not yet made the authorization but is expected to.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education had authorized Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley to institute the mandate based on consultations with medical experts and state health officials. Riley notified school district on Tuesday of the extension. 
"Massachusetts is a national leader in vaccination rates for adults and eligible children, and in anticipation of the vaccine becoming available in the coming weeks for children ages 5 to 11 years old, this extension of the mask requirement will allow time for the elementary school population to receive the COVID-19 vaccine," said Education Secretary James Peyser. "This will be another big step forward in our efforts to keep school safe for our kids."
Riley said masks are still the "simple and effective measure" to prevent transmission of the novel coronavirus along with the state's Test and Stay program and social distancing. Rates of transmission in Massachusetts schools have been low throughout the pandemic. 
School officials can lift the mask requirement if they can demonstrate that at least 80 percent of all students and staff in a school building are vaccinated after submitting documentation to DESE. Lifting the mask mandate through the vaccination threshold is a local decision made by school and district leaders if they choose to take advantage it. This would only apply to middle and high schools because those students are eligible for the vaccine. 
Nearly a dozen schools have reportedly reached the 80 percent benchmark, with Hopkinton High the first to lift the mandate, albeit for only a three-week trial. Even without the mandate, unvaccinated individuals must still wear a mask. 
The following mask requirements will remain in effect:
  • Public school students ages 5 and older in all grades and staff are required to wear masks indoors in schools, except when eating, drinking or during mask breaks.
  • All visitors are also expected to wear a mask in school buildings, regardless of vaccination status.
  • Masks are not required outdoors.
  • It is strongly recommended that students younger than 5 also wear a mask 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 from this requirement.
  • All districts are required this school year to provide in-person learning to all students. 
More than 2,200 public and private schools have opted into either one or multiple forms of testing that the state is providing free to all schools. DESE and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services launched the Test and Stay program for students identified as close contacts in school, allowing students to be tested daily and remain in class if they test negative. This innovative approach has saved students across the commonwealth more than 48,000 days of in-person learning this school year.
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