Northborough/Southborough school official recommends no flexible masking before Jan. 15


Algonquin Regional HIgh School (ARHS)
Algonquin Regional High School stands in Northborough. Algonquin likely won’t implement new masking policies until the new year following a recommendation from a district official. (Photo/Dakota Antelman)

NORTHBOROUGH/SOUTHBOROUGH – The Algonquin Regional High School school community may continue to mask at least until January following a recent recommendation by district staff. 

This is despite an unsuccessful motion at a Nov. 17 Regional School Committee meeting by member Daniel Kolenda to immediately remove masks. 

Though a state mandate remains in place, schools with 80 percent vaccination rates can apply to opt out. Algonquin is one of just a handful of schools in the state to have received that approval. 

“I see that we met, again and far exceeded that 80 percent that the state asks for,” Kolenda said, adding that COVID-19 case counts looked “outstanding.” 

“I don’t know how much lower we need to go before ending the mask mandate,” he said.  

Although the other Regional School Committee members voted against the motion, some committee members voiced their support for removing masks at later dates or adopting similar policies to Hopkinton High School, which has implemented its own flexible masking model. 

Any changes likely won’t happen until after the new year, though, as Director of Wellness Mary Ellen Duggan said the district wants to stay the course until Jan. 15, which the state has circled as a possible end date for its blanket mask requirement.

Northborough/Southborough school official recommends no flexible masking before Jan. 15
Mary Ellen Duggan is the Director of Wellness for the Public Schools of Northborough and Southborough. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

“That would get us through the holiday season and then the two weeks following when we return,” she told the Regional School Committee. “Then we could evaluate what we want to do from there.” 

As Duggan offered that recommendation, the Medical Advisory Team had still recently discussed the details of a masking off-ramp for Algonquin.

The team decided on three criteria they would like the school to meet, including vaccination rates of over 80 percent, steady or decreasing case counts at the school and low to moderate community transmission rates as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

About 88 percent of Algonquin students are fully vaccinated.

Duggan said on Nov. 17 that there had been two COVID-19 cases over the past four weeks at Algonquin. That included three weeks with zero cases before two popped up in the past week.  Duggan called these numbers “spectacular.” 

They come in a year that has seen 58 total cases at the high school. 

Community transmission rates, though, continue to be a sticking point. 

“The case counts in Southborough were really high over the past two weeks,” Duggan said, Nov. 17. 

In an email to the Community Advocate on Nov. 17, Duggan said there were 28 cases in Northborough over the previous seven days. There were 16 cases in Southborough. 

The CDC determines transmission risk in a community by the number of new cases per 100,000 people and the percentage of positive tests over the past seven days. 

Duggan said that, if those two indicators suggest different transmission risk levels, the higher is selected. 

Both Northborough and Southborough are experiencing high transmission levels according to the cases per 100,000 people metric. For Northborough, the number of cases per 100,000 was 178. It was 153 for Southborough. 

The transmission rate is low, however, when considering the percentage of positive tests in Northborough and Southborough. 

Regional School Committee member Sean O’Shea said the district only observed low or moderate transmission under the new cases per 100,000 rate in September of this year and in May and June of last year. 

“I’m just concerned,” he said. “We may never hit those thresholds.” 

School committee member Joan Frank asked how teachers and staff felt about removing masks.

“I want to make sure that everybody that comes in is safe and we keep the school open and don’t have to go to remote learning,” Frank said. 

This discussion happened on the same night that officials in Westborough to discuss the future of masking in the Westborough Public Schools.

During that meeting, Superintendent Amber Bock recommended the School Committee vote on a proposal for flexible masking on Dec. 1 to take effect on Jan. 10.


Westborough School Committee continues discussion on flexible masking

School officials describe COVID-19 ‘outbreak’ at Southborough’s Neary school

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