HOPKINTON, Mass — Hopkinton High School will become the first in the state that can go mask-free, but that’s not going to happen just yet. Since Hopkinton High school has reached the 80% vaccination milestone, DESE said vaccinated students have the option to go mask-free without having to break rules.
“I’ve seen so many people in the hallways with their masks down, especially at lunch, everyone just has a mask on the table,” said Hopkinton senior Sean Walker. “You start to wonder how much it’s really doing anything.”
Still, the Hopkinton school committee said not so fast. The district said it met last week to discuss the possibility of making masks optional but wanted extra time to decide in order to help mitigate risk and prepare for the logistics of unmasking. They didn’t take a formal vote last week but plan to revisit the topic at their meeting on the 21st.
“Usually when we get things like this where they want to wait to a certain date and then we will reassess, it just keeps getting pushed,” Walker said. “I honestly expect Hopkinton to wait until other towns make a more concrete decision.”
But good vaccination numbers are just one part of the equation. The state wants to fix testing delays because of staffing shortages, so Gov. Charlie Baker activated 200 members of the National Guard to help with tests.
“It’ll make it it’ll make a big difference,” said State Representative Mindy Domb. “I had heard that the reason why this program had such a sluggish delayed start was because the private contractor was facing significant workforce challenges and they weren’t able to get people to actually hire people to do it.”
The commonwealth said it has developed a nation-leading COVID-19 testing program to help K-12 students remain in school safely. Over 2,200 schools have currently signed up to participate in at least one of three types of testing: test and stay, symptomatic testing, and pooled testing.
Since the beginning of the school year, results from pooled testing show pool positivity rates of less than 1%, and test and stay, which is used to test close contacts, has saved approximately 25,000 school days for students who would have otherwise had to quarantine.
As these testing programs continue to ramp up, up to 200 members of the National Guard will be activated to expand testing support at schools across the commonwealth. The guard members will begin training this week and begin administering COVID-19 testing in selected schools on Monday, October 18.
“We are very thankful to the men and women of the National Guard for their assistance to help school districts handle some operational challenges in order to continue to keep students, teachers and staff safe,” said Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley. “The National Guard was there when we needed them to drive some children to school due to a nationwide bus driver shortage, and now we are thankful they are once again willing to serve the children of the commonwealth with COVID-19 testing.”
Now, a school like Hopkinton would have great testing and vaccination numbers. Students and parents all agree it’s great to be the first high school approved by DESE, but some disagree on whether the school district should move forward.
“Right now I think they shouldn’t,” said Hopkinton parent Laurie Ekstrom. “I just had two cousins that died from COVID in the past month and two more people in the hospital so I just don’t think it’s the best time.”
“At this one, I think it’s a better idea to have it optional,” Walker said. “Before, I would’ve said mask mandate, but now almost everyone is vaccinated.”
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