Governor Charlie Baker said Monday that he has no plans to alter the statewide mask guidance, as K-12 students prepare to return to classrooms this fall amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m not considering changing the mask guidance ... at this time,” Baker said during an unrelated briefing in Peabody. " ... The fact that so many people in Massachusetts have been vaccinated, and that is real tribute to the entusiasm that the people of this Commonwealth showed to getting vaccinated, has put us in a dramatically different place than many other states across this country.”
He said state officials pay close attention to data surrounding case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths from the virus in shaping policy on pandemic response. The hospitalization rate in Massachusetts, where vaccination rates are comparatively high, remains below the rest of the country, Baker said.
“I hope and pray that many other states move as aggressively as the people in Massachusetts have moved to get a vaccine,” Baker said. “Vaccinations are the pathway out of this pandemic, period. ... We’re going to run hundreds of vaccination clinics in conjunction with our colleagues in the K-12 world between now and the start of school. We expect that will continue to boost our numbers among the kids between the ages of 12 and 19, where again we are a national leader.”
He said there’s also a strategy in place for elementary school grades, where kids aren’t yet eligible to get vaccinated.
“We’ve made a very strong recommendation to our colleagues in K-6 education, that because there is not a vaccine currently available for that population ... that those kids we believe should be masked up until they have the opportunity to get vaccinated,” Baker said. “And our recommendation for the kids in middle and high school, is that if you’re not vaccinated, you should wear a mask. If you are vaccinated, you don’t need to.”
Late last month, the state released recommendations that unvaccinated students, teachers, and other school staff members should wear masks indoors, despite federal recommendations that everyone wear masks regardless of vaccination status.
Despite pressure from teachers unions to create a stronger mask requirement, Baker has for many weeks emphasized that school districts should determine which COVID-19 protocols work best for them and adopt them as needed.
The state has not explicitly recommended that districts adopt other COVID-19 protocols, such as social distancing, this fall.
Baker said Monday that officials have also made clear that people with certain medical conditions should don face coverings.
“If you are with people who are susceptible to COVID indoors, especially, you should wear a mask,” Baker said. “And we’re certainly going to work with our colleagues in the federal government to make sure we do all we can, as the rules become more available and clearer with respect to ... boosters for immunocompromised individuals, that we do all we can to make sure those folks have access to vaccine boosters as well. But at this point in time, we don’t have a plan to change our guidance.”
Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com.