BOSTON (AP) — A mask mandate for Massachusetts public schools is being extended through this year, state officials said Tuesday.
The mandate, which applies to all students older than 5 and school workers, will now stay in effect through at least Jan. 15, state education officials said. It had been scheduled to expire Nov. 1.
Education Secretary James Peyser said it adds time to get more students vaccinated, especially younger children who are expected to have a COVID-19 vaccine made available to them in coming weeks.
“This will be another big step forward in our efforts to keep school safe for our kids,” Peyser said in a statement.
Schools can apply for a waiver from the face covering rules if 80% of their students and staff have been vaccinated. Few have hit that mark so far, with Hopkinton High School last week becoming the first to drop its mask requirement.
If a school reaches the 80% threshold, unvaccinated students and employees are still required to wear masks.
The mandate does not apply outdoors or when students and staff are eating or drinking. Students younger than 5 are not required to wear masks, but the state recommends it. The original mandate was announced in August.
Education Commissioner Jeff Riley said masks “remain a simple and effective measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
About 1,800 students and 350 school workers tested positive for COVID-19 from Oct. 14 though Oct. 20, according to the latest data from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. That’s out of about 920,000 students learning in-person and 140,000 employees.