Mayor Wu Gives Update on Possibility of Mask Mandate for Boston Public Schools

A decision is expected to be communicated to parents this week

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Mayor Michelle Wu gave an update Wednesday on the possibility of a mask mandate for Boston Public Schools, saying officials are expected to finalize a decision later this week.

"We have not finalized that decision and communicated that yet," she said at a First Night Boston press conference. "But as mentioned in preparations as recently as late last school year, there was always a focus on this time of year. This time of year one year ago is when we were experiencing more than 1,000 staff absences in schools because of COVID every single day. Central office administrators had to step in to teach."

"This year it's not just COVID -- those numbers have gone down a bit -- but it's many other transmissible ailments that are affecting attendance levels," she added. "Our number one priority is to make sure our schools can remain open. That means classrooms have to be staffed, so that is going into consideration."

"We will share a decision with families later this week. Our number one goal is to make sure everyone is safe and mostly staffing levels can e where they need to be in order for schools to remain open. We know as COVID levels have eased, people have felt comfortable traveling for the holidays, being in larger gatherings, being in more in person situations, and that means there will be a natural jump in COVID and other illnesses coming off this break. We are thinking about the best way to preempt that and thinking about the tools we have for a potential temporary masking period."

Health experts warned that recent holiday gatherings with loved ones could accelerate infection rates. The concerns stem in part from the looming "tripledemic" where respiratory viruses continue to pose a threat to the public. While nationally flue and RSV cases are slowing down, COVID infections are on the rise.

In a recent letter sent to families, officials asked for everyone to to take precautions, and said that they could implement the masking policy for a couple of weeks after students and staff return to school next week.

Flu and RSV cases may be slowing down, but COVID-19 infections have been steadily rising -- up 7% according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with COVID-19-related deaths up by 15%.

Top Boston doctors interviewed by NBC10 Boston this week had differing opinions on whether a temporary mask mandate is a good idea, pointing to several other circulating respiratory viruses, holiday gatherings and the impact on education.

Top Boston doctors talk about rising COVID wastewater levels, the newly dominant XBB variant and whether Boston Public Schools should implement a temporary mask mandate during NBC10 Boston’s weekly “COVID Q&A” series.

"There's going to be people coming in from having been with many family members and friends over the last, you know, week and a half or so, sort of coming together in school," Boston Medical Center's Dr. David Hamer said. "I think the risk for transmission in that context is going to be higher for a few weeks. And having either a mask mandate or a strong recommendation for mask use may blunt the onward transmission or expansion that could result in that context."

Tufts Medical Center's Shira Doron disagreed.

"To me it doesn't make sense to talk about mask mandates in just school when we aren't talking about them in crowded arenas, bars, nightclubs -- all the places where there are lots of people gathering. And the same trampoline park that the kids might go to straight from school," she said. "I don't think that school is the place to put the mask mandate when we have learned that it can interfere with the educational experience."

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