Omicron Variant Delays Announcement On Mass. School Mask Mandate

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BOSTON (State House News Service) — With questions swirling around the omicron variant of COVID-19 and its potential effects on Massachusetts, the state's K-12 education commissioner said Friday he wants to give the medical community more time to get a handle on the situation before deciding whether to again extend the school mask mandate.

An indoor mask requirement for students and teachers at Massachusetts public schools is in place through at least Jan. 15, and Commissioner Jeff Riley told the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Friday that his department had planned to announce this week whether that policy would again be extended.

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"But with the new arrival of omicron, it seems too soon to make a decision at this time," he said at a Friday board meeting. "The medical community's asked for some additional time so that we have better facts on the ground. They're learning a lot very quickly about the omicron variant. We'll wait and see, and see what the situation looks like in early January for a decision."

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's mask policy allows for schools to request to lift the mandate for vaccinated individuals, if they demonstrate a vaccination rate of at least 80 percent among students and staff. Riley expressed interest in having a superintendent from one of those communities "come in and speak to this board about how it's gone when they've taken the masks off."

Asked Thursday if he was eyeing an extension of the school mask mandate, Gov. Charlie Baker said, "That's a conversation that you probably ought to have with the commissioner and the folks at DESE. My understanding is they've been tracking the data just like everyone else."

By Katie Lannan, State House News Service

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