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How Massachusetts’ new mask guidance affects schools

A line of boys, led by 6-year-old Teddy Anderson, played with the hula hoops at Quincy After School, held at Merrymount Elementary School in March.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Children in schools and summer camps no longer will be required to wear masks during outdoor activities under a new mask guidance announced by the Baker administration on Monday.

The changes, which follow a similar update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week, still will require students and staff members in K-12 schools and early education centers to wear masks indoors.

“There’s a lot of good news ... about the fact that there does not appear to be much transmission certainly in school,” Governor Charlie Baker said during a press conference Monday.

Weekly reports of coronavirus cases among public school students and staff have been dropping in recent weeks, and the state’s voluntary pool testing program — offered to all districts free of charge — has had just a 0.81 percent positivity rate since its launch in February.


Starting on Tuesday, the new guidance will allow students to take off their masks during outdoor activities, such as recess and outdoor sports, even if social distancing cannot be followed. Adults are required to continue wearing masks outdoors in these settings if distance can’t be maintained, according to a guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Due to the “low likelihood of surface transmission of COVID-19,” the department wrote, schools also are allowed to have students share classrooms objects, such as toys, books, or art supplies, without cleaning or disinfecting them between uses.

Effective May 29, children at summer camps will not be required to wear masks during outdoor activities. Baker said camp leaders can choose whether to require vaccinations for staff members or older attendees.

“If a camp were to decide they want their folks to get vaccinated as a precaution for the summer, that’s something they can do,” he said.

Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito said the new guidance is evidence that brighter days are ahead and that vaccines are working as they should.


“I want to thank the parents and everyone who has been part of this process, as a fellow mom, how challenging this has been, for our families and for our children,” she said.

Beth Humberd, an Andover parent of two and an active member of parent advocacy group Bring Kids Back MA, said she and other parents are grateful for the new guidance and “ecstatic” for children.

Humberd was one of six Bring Kids Back MA organizers who co-signed a letter to Baker and other state leaders earlier this month, lobbying them to “urgently, clearly, and unilaterally update all policies and guidance that unnecessarily restrict the children of the Commonwealth.”

They specifically requested changes to the state’s guidance on outdoor mask-wearing and sharing of classroom materials, among many other items.

Humberd said their group’s next step will be determining the extent to which indoor restrictions should be loosened for students before returning to classrooms this fall.

“We’re realizing that respectful advocacy and pressure can really help maybe move the needle,” she said.