Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said Thursday that the city's public schools will continue to enforce a school mask mandate beyond the end of the month. Her announcement comes shortly after Gov. Charlie Baker announced that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) would end the statewide school mask mandate on Feb. 28.
Baker said the increasing availability of vaccines, antiviral treatments and rapid tests were big factors behind the decision, adding "it's time to give our kids a sense of normalcy and lift the mask mandate on a statewide basis for schools." Officials with DESE also highlighted that the decision was made in conjunction with medical and public health experts.
“I won’t presume to know what should or could have gone into the governor’s calculation,” said Wu during a media briefing about the city budget process. “What I know is that the city of Boston is not ready to lift our mask mandate, and so ours will stay in place for the time being.”
Wu says health metrics will be the determining factor for lifting BPS's masking policy. Those include hospitalization rates, percent positivity and vaccination rates.
She adds that schools will also need to wait for those numbers to be consistently trending downward, because of the conditions when students are together.
"Not only is it tighter physical space, because our classrooms can be quite crowded," Wu said, "but there are larger vaccination gaps among our younger students especially."
As of Feb. 3 the vaccination rate among 5 to11 year-olds in Boston was still pretty low, around 32%. That number is much higher among 12 to 15 year-olds, however, coming in at 70% according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Wu did not have an estimate for how long the school mask mandate will last in Boston. In the meantime, she encouraged educators to plan for more outdoor learning time when students can be unmasked.
Catholic schools in Boston, however, will lift their mask mandate. Archdiocese of Boston Catholic Schools Superintendent, Thomas Carroll, announced Wednesday that the school system would stop requiring face coverings once the statewide mandate lifts.
"We are proud of our decision to keep our Catholic schools open," said Carroll in a statement. "And doing so in a way that has kept our students, faculty and staff safe during the global pandemic."