Despite the entirety of Massachusetts now experiencing "high" or "substantial" transmission of COVID-19, Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday he has no plans to revisit his administration's latest guidance for wearing masks indoors or in schools.
Baker was in Peabody on Monday morning with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and several members of his Cabinet to announce $10 million in skills capital grants for educational institutions building programs to train high school students and adult for careers in advanced manufacturing, nursing and other fields.
"I'm not considering changing the mask guidance at this time," Baker said in response to a question about his recommendations for the use of masks even for people vaccinated against COVID-19.
Baker has advised masks indoors only for those at higher risk from COVID-19 or who live with an adult that is unvaccinated or at a higher risk from the virus.
The governor said his administration continues to pay close attention to case counts, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19, but believes Massachusetts is in a different category that other states because of its higher vaccination rate.
"You can't look at the commonwealth of Massachusetts and look at our vaccination rate, our hospitalization rate and compare it to the rest of the country," Baker said.
Baker also defended his approach to the reopening of schools next month, describing his administration's "very strong recommendation" that younger students in grades K-6 who are not yet eligible for a vaccine and older students and adults who are not vaccinated wear masks indoors.
He said "hundreds" of vaccination clinics will be held in coordination with schools between now and the beginning of the new academic year to increase the vaccination rates among students 12 and older, but he said local school departments are best equipped to make decisions about mask mandates in their districts.
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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday that all the counties in Massachusetts are the sites of high or substantial transmission of COVID-19. The rise of transmission mirrors a nationwide and regional trend.
Some health authorities are recommending that vaccinated people go back to wearing masks indoors in areas of high or substantial transmission. That includes almost all of New England.
The CDC reported that every county in the six-state region was the site of high or substantial transmission on Sunday except Orange County, Vermont, and Kennebec County, Maine.
In Massachusetts, Suffolk, Nantucket, Dukes, Plymouth, Bristol, Essex, Hampden and Berkshire counties were the site of high transmission and the other six counties in the state were substantial.
New England continues to pace the nation in COVID-19 vaccine use, and Massachusetts is close to Vermont for the highest rate in the region.
About 74% of Massachusetts has had a first dose of vaccine. Only Vermont is higher at 75%. All six states are above 65%. The nationwide number if a little less than 60%.
Baker also said Monday that the state will soon begin sharing child COVID hospitalization data again.
He said state health officials stopped reporting the data because the numbers were so low.
"The data got really small. I mean, when we got down to sort of 80 cases a day, a day-over-day adjustment really didn't tell people very much," he said. "We've gone back to the hospital community and asked them to work with us now that we're more in the 350 to 360 range to reinstate those data, and we will shortly."