Students and staff at public schools in Massachusetts will no longer be required to wear face coverings inside starting Feb. 28, Gov. Charlie Baker and state education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said Wednesday.
The decision was made in consultation with infectious disease physicians, the state Department of Public Health, and other medical experts, they said.
“Given the extremely low risk to young people, the widespread availability and the proven effectiveness of vaccines, and the distribution of accurate test protocols, and tests, it’s time to give our kids a sense of normalcy and lift the mask mandate on a statewide basis for schools,” the Republican governor said at a news conference.
The indoor mask requirement was put in place by Riley in August to stem the spread of the coronavirus in schools, and was extended several times, most recently in early January when the omicron variant was surging.
More than 40 schools statewide have already lifted mask mandates after reaching an 80% vaccination threshold among staff and students.
Riley pointed out that some students may continue to choose to wear a mask, and some individual schools districts may choose to extend the mask requirement beyond Feb. 28.
Students and faculty may still have to wear masks in certain scenarios, he said. For example, a student who tests positive for the coronavirus is required to stay at home for five days, then wear a mask for five days upon returning to the classroom.
Masks will still be required on school buses, per federal regulations, he said.
Massachusetts is lifting the school masking requirement based in part on high vaccination rates among students. The state is second in the nation for vaccination in children age 5 to 11, and 82% of c16 to 19 year olds have received as least one shot, he said.
“During the past two years, the impact of COVID on children has caused a strain on their mental health, emotional well-being and academic success,” Riley said.
“We believe removing the mask requirement will make it easier for students to learn, particularly our young readers and students learning English as a second language,” he added.
The Department of Early Education and Care, which oversees day care and preschool facilities, will also lift the mask requirements currently in place for all licensed child care providers effective Feb. 28.
The decision in Massachusetts comes after the governors of Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon this week announced plans to lift mandates in schools by the end of February or March, and as some communities in Massachusetts lift indoor mask mandates.
Although Massachusetts does not have a statewide mandate, some cities and towns have required masks for indoor public spaces such as restaurants and gyms. But several communities, most notably Worcester, the state’s second largest city, have in recent days announced plans to lift them as the number of new coronavirus cases plummets.
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