Cabinet Chiefs Urge Colleges To Relax Mask Requirements

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BOSTON (State House News Service) — Less than three weeks after they urged colleges to help lead Massachusetts "into an endemic," a pair of Cabinet secretaries said the Baker administration will "strongly encourage all higher education institutions" to consider relaxing mask requirements on campus.

Education Secretary James Peyser and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders wrote to public and private college presidents on Tuesday calling for colleges and universities, which represent a major sector of the state's economy, to allow students and staff to take masks off in some spaces with new state guidance in place.

They pointed to the Department of Public Health's mask advisory updated earlier on Tuesday, which no longer recommends that all vaccinated people cover their faces in all indoor spaces, and referenced Gov. Charlie Baker's Feb. 9 announcement that a statewide K-12 mask mandate will lift at the end of the month.

Baker's comments about low COVID-19 risks for young people and vaccine and test availability, Peyser and Sudders said, "could clearly apply to higher education, as well, where virtually all students and staff are fully vaccinated, robust testing systems and resources are well established, and a majority of individuals are in low-risk age groups."

"As I'm sure you're also aware, several higher education institutions have already shifted their policies regarding mask wearing," they wrote. "For example, WPI has made masks optional in residential halls and other indoor shared spaces, with some specified exceptions. This is a welcome step towards the return to normalcy that our students need and we strongly encourage all higher education institutions to consider similar measures."

Peyser and Sudders also wrote to college and university presidents on Jan. 28 warning against a "twindemic" of COVID-19 and social isolation, calling for higher education to help Massachusetts return to a "near normal" state by rolling back restrictions and investing in mental health resources.

While some schools have embraced that suggestion, mask requirements continue to feature on campuses. Northeastern University, for example, announced last week that it would drop most COVID-19 restrictions but keep its indoor masking and weekly surveillance testing protocols in place.

Written by Chris Lisinski/SHNS

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