While there is always some risk in going to school without a mask, Boston doctors say at some point Massachusetts needs to draw a line, lest students wind up wearing masks forever.
Education officials are currently considering whether or not to extend the school mask mandate when it expires on Nov. 1. As part of the weekly "COVID Q&A" series, NBC10 Boston asked three top Boston doctors Tuesday what they think about the state's school mask policy.
"Assuming that we don't believe that students should wear masks in school for the rest of time, we have to set an endpoint," said Dr. Shira Doron of Tufts Medical Center. "And that endpoint could be based on vaccination rate, it could be based on case rates and it could be based on hospitalization rates, and there are a number of metrics that you can use, and they're all flawed in some way."
"I agree with Dr. Doron," Boston Medical Center's Dr. Davidson Hamer added. "I mean, we need to be thinking ahead to the time where we can start pulling back some of our mandates."
School districts can currently seek permission from the state to drop the requirement for vaccinated individuals only once they've reached an 80% vaccination rate among students and staff.
The opt-out process became available for Massachusetts schools last Friday. As of Monday, nine schools had requested to lift the mask mandate -- five high schools, one middle school with seventh and eighth grades, and three approved special education schools primarily serving grades nine through 12.
Hopkinton High School is slated to become the first in Massachusetts to lift the mask mandate. School officials voted Thursday night to allow fully vaccinated high schoolers the option to unmask in an experimental trial run next month.
"We've got a high proportion of our population immunized, the circulation of the virus has reduced, and so now is the time to start trying to look more of a normal life," Hamer said.
A total of 4,705,194 Massachusetts residents have been fully vaccinated, health officials reported Thursday.
In August, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education authorized Commissioner Jeff Riley to require masks for students age 5 and up and school staff through at least Oct. 1, and Riley on Sept. 27 extended the requirement through at least Nov. 1.
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Doron, who works as an unpaid advisor to the commissioner of education, was involved in developing Riley's policy.
"Obviously I'm a supporter of that plan," she said. "I believe that at an 80% vaccination rate, schools will be pretty well protected against any large outbreaks and, of course, if every adult and child over the age of 12 has had the opportunity to be vaccinated. I think that's reasonable."
"I agree," Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes of Brigham and Women's Hospital said. "I think we can quibble over what the percentage should be with higher transmissibility of Delta but, you know, you have to you have to pick a number and then be willing to adapt as circumstances change."
On Tuesday, Riley said to expect a decision "by early next week" on whether he will extend that policy past Nov. 1.
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A panel of Boston-based doctors talking about everything related to the COVID-19 pandemic.