While the Baker Administration continues to reject the idea of a statewide mask mandate in schools, Gov. Charlie Baker said he expects that nearly every single unvaccinated student in Massachusetts will wear face coverings this fall.
Final decisions on masking requirements rest with local officials on a district-by-district basis under the Baker administration's guidance, and Baker said in a GBH radio interview Wednesday that early indications point to widespread deployment of mandates.
"Based on what we've heard from our colleagues in local government, virtually every K-6 student in Massachusetts will be masked, and we also believe that virtually every unvaccinated 12-year-old to 19-year-old will be masked as well," Baker said.
Guidance that state education and public health officials issued last month "strongly recommend(s)" that students in kindergarten through sixth grade -- who are not yet eligible for any of the COVID-19 vaccines -- and older unvaccinated students, staff and visitors wear masks this fall.
Asked why his administration's guidance encourages masking in unvaccinated students but stops short of mandating that practice, Baker replied, "We made a strong recommendation on this, and as I said, I believe the vast majority, if not all, school districts are going to adopt that recommendation, which I think is a good thing."
Baker, a Republican, also criticized GOP governors in other states such as Texas and Florida who have sought to ban local leaders from imposing their own school mask mandates. "I think they're making a mistake, and I've been quite clear with all of them about this," Baker said, noting that those battles are largely taking place in states with lower overall vaccination rates than Massachusetts. "If you have a big population of adults who aren't vaccinated, the question about giving locals the ability to make decisions based on both community transmission, the number of adults who aren't vaccinated and all the rest -- that completely changes the risk equation."