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Arlington, Belmont, Cambridge schools urging students to mask up after rise in COVID-19 cases

Christinne Muschi/Bloomberg/file

School officials in Arlington, Belmont, and Cambridge are recommending that students wear masks indoors, following the CDC’s classification of Middlesex County as having a high level of COVID-19 transmission.

Arlington’s superintendent, Elizabeth C. Homan, sent a letter to families on Sunday recommending the change, and Belmont’s superintendent, John P. Phelan, notified families on Monday. Cambridge Public Schools confirmed its recommendation Monday in a separate note to families signed by the “CPS Team.”

Homan wrote in her message that officials are recommending all students and staff wear face coverings indoors this week after the school district recorded 159 positive cases last week, the highest weekly total since early in last winter’s Omicron surge.

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“Due to rapidly increasing rates of COVID-19 in our schools, starting May 9th, Arlington Public Schools strongly recommends that all students and staff wear masks while indoors, except when necessary for eating or drinking,” Homan wrote.

She said school officials will notify families by May 15 if they plan to extend the recommendation.

“It is important to note that this is a temporary recommendation, not a requirement, and that in addition to this recommendation we will be continuing our monitoring of ventilation, doing additional testing and providing access to home testing where necessary, and emphasizing the importance and use of air purifiers and open windows,” Homan wrote. “We are making the recommendation in consultation with the Arlington Department of Health and Human Services, and in the interest of meeting our top priority: maintaining adequate staffing levels for safety and supportive learning environments in our schools.”

She said this week’s recommendation applies to all schools that currently do not have mask requirements in place.

Mask requirements, Homan said, are already in place at Dallin Elementary School, Gibbs Middle School, and Menotomy Preschool in Arlington. Such requirements are “determined at the local level and when necessary will be messaged by the school principal in collaboration with” Homan, the superintendent wrote.

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Homan said Middlesex County is rated as having “high” COVID-19 transmission levels, and that the CDC recommends masking indoors at that threshold.

In Belmont, Phelan wrote in a letter to families Monday that parents should “consider having your student wear a mask while in school. We are not mandating but simply recommending this added layer of protection.”

Masks should also be worn in cases of negative tests when symptoms are present, Phelan wrote. He didn’t indicate in his note how long the mask recommendation would remain in effect in his school district.

“The increase in BPS COVID-19 case numbers is reflective of what is going on in the community and the state. Since the April break we have seen an increase in cases and this is most likely due to the contagiousness of the Omicron variant, as well as increased social gatherings and travel,” Phelan wrote.

He said school officials are continuing “to work closely with the Belmont Health Department to monitor cases and keep our students and staff safe. We ask for your continued support in this effort, particularly at times like this when we experience increasing cases.”

Cambridge Public Schools, meanwhile, said in a separate note to families Monday that officials continue to be “vigilant” as they review COVID-19 data and trends.

“Due to an increase in the number of COVID cases and COVID-related hospitalizations within our community, we are encouraging our entire school community to mask, particularly when we are indoors,” the note said. “Please note that we are NOT reinstating a requirement but advising mask use based on current data. We will continue to monitor the trends and make determinations based on the data and in collaboration with the Cambridge Public Health Department.”

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