Masks Return for More Students Across Greater Boston

While Boston Public Schools urges mask wearing, other learning institutions are mandating masks in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19

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More school districts have resorted to masking up this week amid rising concern about the spread of COVID-19 in Massachusetts.

Beginning on Monday, students at public schools in Chelsea will be required to wear masks indoors, according to a letter sent out Friday by Chelsea Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Almi G. Abeyta. The superintendent 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.

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Chelsea, however, is not the only community where more students may be in masks.

Students in Boston returned to class on Wednesday after their break and are now temporarily being urged to wear masks.

Boston Public Schools has urged mask wearing since students returned from winter break last Wednesday, although the district has not mandated the policy. The masking guidance is in effect through Friday, meant to curb COVID-19 spread following holiday gatherings and travel.

Students at UMASS Boston were under a mask mandate beginning Monday.

The university made that announcement on Friday, saying that it would be reinstituting its mask requirement for people, regardless of vaccination status.

The last time students in Chelsea had to mask up was last April, but the new and dominant XBB 1.5 omicron COVID variant prompted the CDC to raise the infection risk level for Suffolk County to high

“We can’t control this, you know? So, I really disagree with this,” Chelsea High School student Azarias Montano said Monday morning.

The CDC said the new COVID-19 variant is responsible for 75% of new cases.

“I get it, it’s for safety, but we’re already two quarters deep without the masks,” said senior Elis Sorazo. “So, might as well do the last two quarters without it.”

But Joel Barrientos doesn’t mind the masks at school, especially if it can protect him, his classmates and his family, he said.

Students, staff, and visitors all are required to wear mask while indoors at all Chelsea Public Schools, except when eating or drinking.

The CDC has classified nine other of the 14 Massachusetts counties as high risk for COVID infection.

“The percent positivity is around 13% right now, which is highest last January,” Newton-Wellesley Hospital Pathology Associate Chair Dr. Michael Misialek noted.

Misialek isn’t surprised these schools would bring back masks, especially amid COVID fatigue, which has led to fewer folks keeping up with their vaccinations and leaving the population more at risk.

“COVID is still out there, it’s continuing to evolve,” said Misialek. “It will do so, and it’s a cat-and-mouse game here to try to stay ahead of these variants.” 

In addition to masking, Misalek recommended maintaining hygiene and social distancing.

As for the masks, the schools plan to continue the mandate until the CDC lowers their risk assessment.

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