Students and teachers in all Rhode Island schools will be required to wear facemasks during the upcoming school year, regardless of vaccination status, Gov. Daniel McKee announced Thursday.
The Democrat said he’d sign an executive order soon formalizing the mask mandate in K-12 schools.
“Until we can vaccinate more students, we need masks in schools,” he said in a conference announcing the measure with state Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. “As governor, I will not put student safety at risks.”
McKee also called on Democratic leaders of the state General Assembly to reconvene lawmakers to restore some of the emergency powers granted to the governor during the peak of the pandemic. He said he will also issue a new executive order declaring a state of emergency in response to the more transmissible delta variant of COVID-19.
Up until Thursday, McKee had resisted calls to issue a statewide mask mandate for schools, saying it should be left to individual school districts to decide.
Earlier this summer, he “strongly recommended” school districts implement mask policies, and on Wednesday, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the state’s health director, repeated the appeal in a letter to school superintendents.
“The public health guidance is clear: to prevent the widespread transmission of COVID-19, both vaccinated and unvaccinated people in schools must be wearing masks,” she wrote.
Rhode Island is among the most vaccinated states in the nation, with nearly 62% of residents fully inoculated against COVID-19.
But state officials say more than a quarter of Rhode Island’s new coronavirus cases are among children under the age of 12 who cannot get vaccinated.
The state is averaging around 313 new COVID-19 cases a day, up from about 190 a day just two weeks ago.