CDC clears path for mask mandates in schools

But some MA parents petition to have choice in fall

BOSTON — Last week, State Senator Rebecca Rausch and 11 colleagues sent a letter to MA Gov. Charlie Baker, urging him to recommend masks be worn this fall for students in grades K-6, a group that will be almost wholly unvaccinated against COVID-19.

“It is a low-cost, low-maintenance way of ensuring we are using all the tools in our toolbox to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Rausch said.

Tuesday, Rausch got validation on that belief and then some. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its guidance on reopening schools to recommend all children in grades K-12, vaccinated or not, wear masks indoors this coming school year.

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“I get it, it feels annoying,” Rausch said. “And people don’t like it, and I understand that.”

But she hopes state residents opposed to masks consider the alternatives.

“Schools shutting down. Parents like me trying to figure out how to cover work and child care with the kids out of school,” Rausch said. “Another lockdown perhaps. Masking in school seems like a far better option, even absent all the scientific data pointing to masks as not only an incredibly effective way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but also a necessary way.”

But at least 4,000 Massachusetts parents disagree. They are among a growing number of signatories to an online petition that would make school mask use optional this fall. The petition harkens back to a policy statement the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) put out back in May, in which it outlined a return to school without DESE health and safety restrictions.

About two weeks ago, DESE announced it would evaluate then-new CDC guidance recommending unvaccinated K-12 students wear masks indoors at school in fall. That’s when the petition was born.

It claims there is no scientific proof masks stop the spread of COVID-19 in schools and points to the mask-free environment kids have enjoyed during the summer while shopping, eating out and attending camp as proof they can gather safely at school.

Rausch said the Delta variant changed the equation for fall in ways no one could have foreseen.

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“We’re seeing cases skyrocket,” she said. “Just in the month of July in Massachusetts, we’re up close to 700%.”

And while it is true that most younger children don’t become ill from COVID-19 infections immediately, Rausch correctly pointed out that researchers still aren’t sure if they can become victims of ‘long Covid’ with lingering, damaging effects from the virus that can last years. Plus, some younger children have been killed by COVID-19.

Needham parent Clare Windsor said she’s disappointed her three children will have to wear masks this fall, especially since the family did its part to battle the pandemic.

“The adults and age-appropriate kids got vaccinated,” Windsor said. “We stayed home when we were supposed to. We did all the right things, and it’s just so disappointing that the kids still have to wear masks at school and can’t really just have the freedom they should have in childhood.”

But, she said, frustrating as it might be, there’s only one thing they can think to do.

“Obviously we’ll just continue to soldier on and do the right thing.” Masks and all.

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