By Stuart Foster, Contributing Writer
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article erroneously misstated an aspect of the Board of Health’s Aug. 6 recommendation on the return to school in Westborough. The article has been corrected. The print edition containing that article had already been finalized and sent to press by the time this error was noted, however. The Community Advocate will print a correction in its next edition on Aug. 27 to ensure print readers are aware of this error. The Community Advocate regrets confusion caused by this error.
WESTBOROUGH – The Westborough Board of Health met with schools superintendent Amber Bock, Aug. 10 to discuss school reopening plans amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
After that meeting and a subsequent school committee meeting on Aug. 17, students and staff will be asked to wear masks through Sept. 17. At that point the district and the Board of Health will evaluate whether changes can be made to masking protocols to allow flexibility for individuals who are vaccinated.
“I think right now, if I were to sum up the guidance from the Board of Health, it sounds like CDC guidance is pretty much in line with where we are,” Board of Health member Nathan Walsh said. “I think that we’re evaluating the data as it comes in with our specific location in mind, and that if things here in Westborough change I would expect that the Board of Health’s position on this would change.”
Ray Gauthier, the interim sanitarian for the town, said that 89 percent of Westborough is currently vaccinated. Board of Health member Melissa Mahr said, however, that the statistic was based on a 2018 census which is somewhat out of date.
Gauthier also added that there had been 14 total cases of COVID-19 in Westborough since July 29.
Walsh mentioned a number of concerns relevant as considerations for how the Westborough Public Schools should open. Among those concerns was the increased risk that the Delta Variant poses to children. He also said he was concerned about the effect of wearing masks on the development of non-verbal communication for children.
“For the most part, we try and be practical in how we think about these problems,” said Board of Health member Alan Ehrlich. “We try not to throw caution to the wind. We try and take some kind of a middle stance.”
Bock said that, this year, the Westborough Public Schools will plan to return to more normal schooling practices. That’s after seeing classes disrupted in the spring of 2020 and throughout much of the last school year due to the pandemic.
When Ehrlich considered a vaccine mandate for Pre-K and first grade teachers, due to the educational benefit of not wearing a mask in that developmental stage, Bock said that the vaccination rate for the school’s teachers was so high that it did not seem like a major issue.
“Do I want to open school with a most-treasured first grade teacher on the sideline because for the larger good you’re going to ask her to be vaccinated when she could be in a mask?” Bock said. “I don’t know.”
Classes in Westborough’s 2021-2022 school year are set to begin on Wednesday, Sept. 1.