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Massachusetts mask mandate in K-12 schools will end on February 28th

Jeffrey Riley, Commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, at a news conference with Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA) and Lt Gov. Karyn Polito (R-MA) on Feb. 9, 2022 to announce the lifting of a statewide school mask mandate effective Feb. 28, 2022.

Local option for mask-wearing in schools will remain, state officials announce

As new coronavirus infections plummet in Massachusetts, mask rules are being eased in more and more places.

The statewide mask mandate in Massachusetts K-12 public schools will be lifted on February 28th, Governor Charlie Baker announced Wednesday morning.

“People have made a lot of progress by doing all the work that they’ve done over the past two years to help kids and those who work with them in schools,” Baker said. “And today’s announcement is another big step forward to safely manage COVID while we get back to what I would describe as the familiar and normal aspects of school and life.”

In announcing the end to the statewide school mask mandate, the Republican governor touted a high vaccination rate among school-age kids and free in-school and at-home rapid testing programs for students and school staff.

“And schools have proven to be very safe over the course of the pandemic,” Baker said.

Speaking at a news conference with Baker, Jeffrey Riley, the Commissioner of the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said local officials have the option to continue to require masks be worn in schools.

“ We believe that removing the mask requirement will make it easier for students to learn, particularly our young readers and students learning English as a second language,” Riley said. “While masking is no longer a statewide requirement, we ask all school leaders and students to make sure they respect all individual choices around mask wearing.”

Federal regulations require masks be worn on school buses.

The Department of Early Education and Care is lifting the mask requirement for all licensed child-care providers also effective on February 28th.

The relaxing of the restrictions was announced the day after the Massachusetts Department of Public Health released data that showed the number of new coronavirus infections was down 73 percent from two weeks ago.

As the Omicron surge ebbs, at least 10 municipalities in Massachusetts moved this week to end requirements that masks be work in all indoor public places, according to a tally kept by WCVB.

Gary Rosen is a member of the health board in Worcester that voted 3-2 to end the indoor mask mandate in the second-largest city in the state on February 18th.

“Most of us have reached a point where we’re very very tired,” Rosen said during a remote meeting of the board Monday night. “We’re mentally, we’re emotionally, we’re socially tired.”

In Springfield, an indoor mask mandate remains in place for now, said Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris.

“People are really looking at the end of February beginning of March as a time when we can start to think about can we relax some of these restrictions,” Caulton-Harris said.

As with the rest of the state, Springfield has seen a steep drop in new COVID-19 cases. There were 707 confirmed new cases during the week of January 30th – half the number of the week before.

A pandemic-high 2,773 infections were reported in Springfield the week of January 9th.

“We had a month last month that was just devastating,” Caulton-Harris said. “Omicron really devastated our community as well as our neighborhoods.”

Speaking at a meeting of the City Council Covid-19 Response and Recovery Committee, Caulton-Harris reported that 51 city residents have died from the disease since December 1st, 2021.

The total death toll in the city since the start of the pandemic stood at 340 as of Tuesday.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.