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Students in Mass. will need to keep wearing masks through at least Jan. 15

An indoor mask requirement for Massachusetts public schools will remain in effect through the start of 2022, education officials announced Tuesday.

The move marks the second time the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has extended its universal masking policy. It was previously in place through at least Nov. 1, and the department said that "after consulting with medical experts and state health officials," Commissioner Jeff Riley notified districts Tuesday that the rule would be extended through at least Jan. 15, 2022.

Education officials said they would "continue to evaluate and consider other criteria that could be used in the future to lift the mask requirement based on public health data." Schools that choose to do so will remain able to submit paperwork to DESE requesting to lift mask mandates for vaccinated individuals if they demonstrate a vaccination rate of at least 80% among students and staff.

Education Secretary James Peyser said the extension "will allow time for the elementary school population to receive the COVID-19 vaccine."

Pending federal expansion of vaccine eligibility to kids younger than 12, state health officials said last week that they expect 360,000 doses of the pediatric vaccine to arrive here between Oct. 28 and Nov. 5.

"Masks remain a simple and effective measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep students in school safely," said Riley, who has touted the state's COVID-19 testing programs for schools as another way to help kids remain in the classroom.

During the week from Oct. 14-20, school districts reported to DESE a total of 1,804 new positive COVID-19 cases among students and 350 among staff. The positivity rate for the state's school pooled testing program was 0.91% over the week from Oct. 11-17.

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