Hearing to be held on COVID, kids, and the return to schools

Rep. Decker: Has Delta surge changed the equation for September?

BOSTON — School districts in Massachusetts know when they’ll be welcoming students back for the 2021-2022 academic year. What they suddenly don’t know is what that year will look like, thanks to the sudden surge in Covid cases fueled by the Delta variant.

In the last three weeks, cases in Massachusetts exploded from just a relative handful each day to now, commonly, hundreds a day. Last Friday, the Department of Public Health reported 586 confirmed cases with a seven-day average positivity rate of 1.53 percent. The average hasn’t been that high since May 3.

State Rep. Marjorie Decker is already looking to Sept. 3.

“I’m a parent who already feels like summer’s over,” she said. “When I think about managing the last few weeks of summer and trying to get my kids ready for fall, like, it’s done.”

With that in mind, the Cambridge Democrat wants state leaders to start talking about what the coming school year is looking like now -- considering the Delta variant, and with an eye toward approval of Covid vaccines for kids under 12 at some point.

Decker will chair an oversight hearing on those and other related subjects at the Museum of Science scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday. The public can join virtually.

“I’m the parent of a vaccinated and an unvaccinated child,” Decker said. “Like so many parents across Massachusetts, I feel like I’m being left on my own to negotiate what a safe path looks like for my family and for each of my children.”

Among the questions many parents have is whether children will be required to wear masks this school year -- or whether it’s advisable they wear masks, even if not required.

Last week, Gov. Charlie Baker dismissed the idea of a statewide mask mandate, leaving it up to localities to make that determination. The State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education told Boston 25 News it will collaborate with the Department of Public Health to “issue any additional health and safety recommendations over the summer should they become necessary,” said a DESE spokesperson. But Decker said with the Delta variant surging, this is a time state leaders have to be willing to be nimble when it comes to policy pronouncements.

“While he can say that he doesn’t think he’s going to impose a mask mandate, that may not be the right thing three weeks from now,” Decker said.

One reason school districts might choose to mandate masks is that many students remain unvaccinated.

Decker pointed out that about half of 12- to 17-year-olds have been vaccinated in Massachusetts. And, of course, no children under the age of 12 have been vaccinated against Covid-19 yet because the FDA has not approved vaccines for this age group. Estimates for approval range from mid-fall to early 2022.

“When we think about bringing thousands and thousands of children and teachers and staff and faculty back to school in the fall are we ready for that,” she asked.

Decker hopes to begin getting answers to that question Monday. It will feature testimony from more than 30 experts, including representatives from state government, medicine and education. However, in the latter category, she was disappointed and ‘baffled’ the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) declined an invitation.

The public can live stream begins at 10:30 a.m. with the hearing scheduled to begin at 11:00 via this link: https://malegislature.gov/.

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