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Baker says ‘the best place for kids is in school’ amid COVID surge

Massachusetts Governor Charlie BakerJonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker on Monday reiterated that state officials are working to keep children in school for in-person learning amid the ongoing Omicron-fueled surge of COVID-19.

“We’ve said all along that we think the best place for kids is in school,” Baker told reporters at the State House following his regular meeting with legislative leaders. “And that is because in many respects, every respected public health expert in America has said” the safest place for children is school.

Baker said the state will do whatever it can to help school districts maintain in-person learning.

He also said that last week, “the highest case count that we had in any of our pooled testing was the day the kids came back from vacation. And that’s because most of the studies ... have said that the primary place where kids get COVID is outside of school, not in school.”

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Officials, Baker continued, have “watched the actual test rate from the pool test go down by almost 50% from the beginning of the week to the end of the week. Which brings me back to my earlier point, which is school is probably the safest place for kids.”

His remarks followed an earlier briefing at Boston City Hall Monday, when Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, director of the Boston Public Health Commission, told reporters the city remains “very concerned” about local public school teachers, staff and students. All BPS schools will close Tuesday due to frigid weather.

“What we’ve done to ensure or to decrease the risk of ... transmission, we’ve put in recommendations for strategies that I think are quite important,” she said.

Ojikutu said those strategies include increasing the frequency of surveillance testing in schools; enforcing isolation practices for those who test positive; requiring people to have a negative rapid antigen test to return to school, following an isolation period after a positive test; and providing surgical masks as well as “higher grade” K95 masks to teachers and staff.

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“And then as Mayor Wu emphasized, we need to get people vaccinated and boosted,” Ojikutu said. “Our rate of vaccination amongst ages 5 to 11 is about 37 percent across the city.”

The question of in-person learning has been a fraught one amid the Omicron surge.

Massachusetts educators — already stressed by a record surge in COVID-19 cases — reacted with disappointment and frustration last week when they learned that masks distributed by the state are a less protective, non-medical version of the high-quality KN95 masks they’d been promised. The ones thousands of them received had lost FDA approval in 2020.

Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.