The push for stricter COVID safety protocols from BPS Families for COVID Safety (FamCOSa) comes after the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention on Friday designated Suffolk County’s community risk level for COVID-19 as “high.” The CDC recommends individuals to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
BPS Families for COVID Safety (FamCOSa) released a statement Monday in response to Chelsea and UMass Boston’s Friday announcements, asking for Boston Public School administrators to also bring back a mask mandate for the safety of students.
“In contrast, Boston Public Schools is still “asking” and “expecting” students and staff to mask up, but their policy does not require this measure to protect the BPS community from COVID transmission in the schools,” wrote the group, which says it works to share resources and advocate for improvement to COVID safety measures with BPS.
Masks are optional for Boston Public Schools.
Anecdotal reports from parents, students, and staff found that many students and staff are not wearing masks despite the surge in COVID cases, according to FamCOSa’s statement.
“We simply do not understand why UMass Boston and Chelsea Public Schools care more about their students, staff, and families than Boston Public Schools cares about theirs,” Suleika Soto, BPS parent and co-founder of FamCOSa, said in the statement. “It is past time for BPS and the City of Boston to take the health and safety of our school communities seriously and institute required universal masking during the current surge.”
BPS did not immediately provide answers to a Globe request for comment on its masking policies. Boston Public Health Commissioner Dr. Bisola Ojikutu was also not available to comment.
Both Chelsea Public Schools and UMass Boston cited rising COVID positivity and hospitalization rates, as well as the rise of a new subvariant called XBB, in announcing the reinstated mask mandates.
Both administrations will require students and staff to wear masks in indoor settings at all times.
“We will continue to regularly monitor data and follow CDC recommendations in the event the risk level changes. The safety of our community is our highest priority,” Dr. Almi G. Abyerta, superintendent of Chelsea Public Schools, wrote in an announcement to the school district.
Masks have long been recommended by experts throughout the pandemic but at this point, there’s no consensus among experts about whether mandates would be effective.
Julia Raifman, assistant professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health, falls in the camp that still supports mask mandates are effective in mitigating COVID transmissions and reducing disparities in the harm of COVID.
She said there is evidence showing universal mask mandates are effective, citing a study from the New England Journal of Medicine that documented that schools with required mask policies had fewer COVID cases compared to other school districts that were mask-optional.
“What’s key to universal mask policies is source control and making sure the person with COVID is not spreading COVID into the air, and that’s why we do see that everyone wearing masks together is effective,” Raifman said.
On the other hand, some experts said that the risk of contracting COVID is not as harmful as it would be last year, and so reinstating masking is not needed.
But Shira Doron, an infectious disease physician at Tufts Medical Center, said COVID has become similar to other respiratory viruses such as the flu and should be treated as one.
“We really do need to sort of move away from focusing on one virus and really step back and look at health in general,” Doron said.
Instead, Doron encourages frequent testing, staying at home when sick, and one-way masking.
“If people want to stay healthy, they think about it in bigger and bigger terms,” Doron said. “Understanding that respiratory viruses are inevitable, knowing that you stay home when you’re sick and you stay away from sick people.”