Mask mandate lifted for Shrewsbury schools

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Mask mandate lifted for Shrewsbury schools
Students wore masks during a dedication ceremony for the new Beal Elementary School in Shrewsbury last year. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

SHREWSBURY – Masks will no longer be required in Shrewsbury schools.

This comes after a pair of votes by the Board of Health today and by the School Committee on Wednesday to rescind their mask mandates.

The change goes into effect immediately. 

Board of Health member George Abraham said he reviewed recent data, including rates of positive COVID-19 cases and wastewater sampling information.

“Both of them show consistently low levels with no evidence of surges,” he said. 

School Committee votes

The Board of Health and School Committee previously discussed lifting these mask mandates last month. 

However, at that time, they opted to wait to make a decision until after the recent February vacation, noting previous spikes in cases following past vacation weeks. 

“I am glad that this committee had waited, given our history of seeing spikes in cases after vacations,” School Committee member Jason Palitsch said. “Having said that, I am also glad that we did not see a spike in cases after February break.”

The School Committee voted unanimously to lift the mandate earlier this week. 

Key metrics show positive signs

Superintendent Joseph Sawyer specifically reported a reduction in cases prior to that vote. There were 11 cases among students and staff between Feb. 26 and March 2. In comparison, there were 23 cases in the week before the February vacation.

There were five cases reported during vacation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its guidance regarding masking in schools since that meeting in February where leaders opted to delay their decision, Sawyer said.

That guidance recommended that masks be optional in schools unless a school is in a location deemed as high risk. The CDC also recommends masks in districts with strained health care resources.

Worcester County, Sawyer reported, was assessed to be at medium risk. 

These metrics “signal that optional masking seems highly unlikely to create a significant risk of COVID-19 transmission in our schools,” Sawyer said.

“I do certainly want to mention that we know that this is not without risk,” Sawyer continued. “There’s always a level of risk around communicable disease, and we don’t know exactly, of course, how things will go when it comes to whether it’s COVID or anything else in terms of spread.”

Masks will still be required in nurses offices and for five days after people return from isolation due to COVID-19.

District discusses process of reimplementing mask mandate, if needed

In terms of reimplementing the mandate in the future, the school district recommended a policy that would have Sawyer monitor any communications about public health.

Similar to a plan laid out by the Public Schools of Northborough and Southborough, Shrewsbury plans to monitor student attendance as a barometer of COVID-19’s presence in schools. 

If attendance drops below an average of 92% for the district or at a school over 10 days, Sawyer will consult with the district and local medical professionals. 

If there are concerns, he would be able to implement a temporary mask requirement until the School Committee can convene and vote. 

“It’s going to be extremely important that if and when masking becomes optional for students and staff in our schools that our district and our school leaders convey that everyone is expected to respect the choices that are made by each individual regarding whether to wear a mask at school,” Sawyer said.

The School Committee unanimously approved these requirements.

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