US Representative Ayanna Pressley urged Governor Charlie Baker this week to enact mask and vaccine mandates in Massachusetts schools and to resume comprehensive data collection on hospitalizations and coronavirus cases in schools.
In a letter sent Tuesday, Pressley wrote that vaccine mandates are “a necessary tool to safeguard vulnerable populations,” something Baker “undoubtedly” recognized when he ordered most staff members in long-term care facilities to get vaccinated.
“Because many classrooms, filled with unvaccinated children and lacking proper ventilation, have the potential to be petri dishes for the coronavirus, there is growing support by educators and public health experts for requiring vaccination for all school personnel,” Pressley wrote. “There needs to be a clear equitable approach that leaves no resident of the Commonwealth behind.”
Vaccine mandates should all be extended “to other settings where COVID-19 transmission is highly probable and extremely dangerous,” Pressley wrote, such as hospitals and prisons.
She also urged Baker to implement a statewide school mask mandate that “safeguards our students, our teachers, and our communities from greater risk of COVID-19 infection.”
Baker largely has adopted a local approach to COVID-19 protocols for the upcoming school year, strongly recommending unvaccinated students and staff members wear masks indoors, but stopping short of requiring it. He has said local school districts should determine what rules work best in their community.
The leadership of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the largest educators union in Massachusetts, has pressed Baker to adopt mandates, particularly to keep safe communities of color hit hardest by the pandemic.
Requiring masks in schools, regardless of vaccination status, also would put Massachusetts in line with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, Pressley pointed out.
Despite facing that pressure, Baker remains resolute in his decision not to issue a state mandate.
“Giving locals the opportunity to own the decisions they make is a big and important issue,” he told reporters Monday. “And if you look at what’s playing out in other states right now, where state government has taken away the authority for locals to make their own decisions, that’s not the right way to play this game. It’s just not.”
In her letter, Pressley also pushed the Baker administration to release more comprehensive data on COVID-19.
Earlier this summer, the state stopped reporting detailed demographic information about who is getting hospitalized with the virus in Massachusetts. Baker said Monday the state changed the process for reporting hospitalizations when “the data got really small,” but indicated state leaders are looking into reinstating some data soon.
The state also stopped its weekly report of coronavirus cases in schools at the end of the 2020-21 academic year. There are no plans currently for the state to report cases in schools this fall.
“Your decision to stop reporting all of the necessary data at the exact same time the delta variant began infecting residents was misguided and must be reversed,” Pressley wrote.
Read Pressley’s full letter to Baker: