Students who attend public schools in Chelsea, Massachusetts, will be required to wear masks indoors starting Monday, just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designated Suffolk County as "high risk" for COVID-19 transmission.
Chelsea Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Almi G. Abeyta sent a letter to the school community on Friday announcing the mask mandate, and cited the CDC's community risk designation for the county -- which includes a recommendation that all people should wear masks while indoors -- as the reason behind the district's move.
"We will continue to regularly monitor data and follow CDC recommendations in the event the risk level changes," Abeyta said. "The safety of our community is our highest priority."
The district said, effective Jan. 9, masks must be worn in school buildings at all times except when eating or drinking. Mask wearing will continue to remain mandatory for anyone visiting the school's health offices, and anyone returning to school from a five-day quarantine following a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.
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"We may not all agree on this, but I think it's a good idea," Dr. David Hamer of Boston Medical Center said.
Tufts Medical Center's Shira Doron disagreed.
"To me it doesn't make sense to talk about mask mandates in just school when we aren't talking about them in crowded arenas, bars, nightclubs -- all the places where there are lots of people gathering. And the same trampoline park that the kids might go to straight from school," she said. "I don't think that school is the place to put the mask mandate when we have learned that it can interfere with the educational experience."
Chelsea's superintendent reminded families in the district that the Chelsea School Committee voted back in April 2022 to lift the mask requirement in schools provided that CDC recommendations did not change based on the Suffolk County risk level.
"With the risk level changing, CPS will follow its established protocols and reinstitute its mask mandate," Abeyta reiterated.
The CDC's COVID community risk levels have skyrocketed over the past week, and more than half of the state is now in the high risk category, which could be a sign that we might be in the middle of a surge fueled by the new XBB variant.
UMass Boston also announced Friday that it is reinstituting its indoor mask requirement, effective Monday. The executive director of university health services and the vice chancellor for human resources said in a joint letter that although on-campus transmission has remained low and they have "a very highly-vaccinated population," the university will follow CDC guidance, keeping a close eye on the community levels.
The mask requirement applies to all individuals regardless of vaccination status and the requirement applies in all indoor settings, including campus shuttles, as well as in crowded outdoor settings, according to the letter, which noted that masks and COVID tests are available at multiple locations on campus.
The university asked everyone to be vigilant in closely monitoring their own health and symptoms, asking anyone who is symptomatic to stay home and get tested.
"For the sake of the health of our campus and community, we are hopeful that this latest wave of the COVID pandemic will pass quickly," the university said in a statement. "We extend a heartfelt thank you to all our students, faculty, and staff for your continued vigilance in keeping our community safe."