Governor Charlie Baker is facing calls from some Massachusetts doctors to require face coverings in all schools, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status, as students begin heading back to the classroom.
Dr. Carole Allen, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, and Dr. Julie Johnston, president of the Massachusetts Academy of Family Physicians, issued a statement Tuesday urging Baker to require “all who learn in, work in, or visit schools” to wear masks while citing concerns about the spread of the highly-contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
“Masking is a public health measure proven to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, and decreasing transmission is critically important now as data have shown an increase in the number of children and adults who have contracted the easily transmissible Delta variant of the virus,” the doctors said in the statement.
“It is imperative that Massachusetts teachers, staff, students, and visitors start this school year with uniform masking requirements to protect them and those with whom they live and interact outside of the academic setting,” they said.
On Monday, Baker said he had no plans to change the state’s mask guidance, citing the state’s high vaccination rate. The guidance advises mask-wearing for all unvaccinated students, including kids under the age of 12 who are not yet eligible to get a vaccine, but leaves the decision to local communities whether to mandate face coverings in schools.
Hospitalizations among children younger than 18 who are infected with COVID-19 have been climbing since early July, rising beyond levels seen during the winter surge, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infections and hospitalizations continue to be largely among unvaccinated individuals.
The board of directors for the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, voted on Monday to support a vaccine mandate for all school employees and eligible students. Health experts have said unvaccinated children are better protected from the virus when they are around others who are vaccinated.
Hospitalizations overall have continued to climb in Massachusetts. State health officials reported 428 people were in the hospital with COVID-19 on Tuesday, up from 206 on Aug. 3.
Allen and Johnston said a mask mandate in schools would reaffirm the state’s “commitment to keeping all of our schools open and our students and staff safe.”
“Education plays a pivotal role in children’s mental, physical and emotional development and wellbeing, and we must balance safety and a priority to return to full-time, in-person learning with as little disruption as possible,” they said in the statement.
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