Masks, at-home tests at center of debate as kids return from winter break

Boston – The debate over whether kids should mask up and test regularly is front and center in communities across Massachusetts as winter break comes to an end.

School officials in at least three local communities – Boston, Newton and Arlington – are encouraging students and staff to temporarily mask up upon returning.

Students and staff in many districts across the state are also being encouraged to continue using at-home tests to identify COVID positive cases.

The recommendations have lead to mixed opinions from families in different cities and towns.

“So many people don’t take the tests anymore. They say we’re sick, we’re sick,” said Norwood father Ruben Restrepo. “Now it’s kind of a normal thing.”

Another parent Boston 25 News spoke with said she takes the honor system of recommended at-home testing seriously.

“Our kids live in multi-generational families. So having a sick child impacts other family members,” said Boston mother Lakshmi Ganapathi.

Ganapathi, who has a son in kindergarten in Boston Public Schools, is also a pediatric infectious diseases physician.

She said she’s concerned about the potential for high transmission of COVID, the flu and RSV when kids come back from the holidays.

“To date we’ve received rapid tests every other week. This may be the time to really send rapid tests every week,” said Ganapathi. “Periods of high transmission is when we need to use all of our tools, masking as well as testing.”

Doctor Shira Doron, Tufts Medical Center’s epidemiologist, doesn’t believe more masking and testing is necessarily the answer right now.

“There’s no reason right now to think that this January will resemble last January in any way,” said Doctor Doron. “The main difference is how much immunity we as a population have as a result of infection and multiple shots.”

Doctor Doron points to recent changes in other countries’ approaches to COVID-19.

“Here in this country, we still recommend testing for even mild symptoms for everybody,” she added. “I suspect soon we will follow what many especially European countries have done which is to say there are a lot of respiratory viruses out there, and you don’t need to know what they are.”

Boston Public Schools says it will continue to provide all students and staff with home testing kits every two weeks.

School officials in Boston, Arlington and Newton say they will not be enforcing mask-wearing when kids come back but are strongly encouraging all students and staff to consider doing so temporarily.

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