Vax Rates High, Cases Down as School Committee Mask Vote Nears

Note: Since this article was filed, the school committee did vote to adopt a mask-optional policy in the Reading Public Schools.  

As the school committee nears a decision on the mask mandate being lifted on February 28th, community members have become curious about the pertinent facts and benefits of masks.

On February 10th, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced the end of the state-wide mask mandate in all K-12 public schools, effective February 28th. Given the recent decline in Covid-19 cases nationwide, Massachusetts will join many other states in loosening mask-wearing policies. However, the final decision within each district will be made at the local level. Reading’s school committee is set to meet Thursday, February 17th. With a highly debated topic at hand, the committee will consider factors including the effectiveness of masks in preventing the spread of Covid-19, as well as relevant statistics across Reading Public Schools.

The current K-12 public school mask mandate has been in place as of August 2021. Since then, there has been some controversy surrounding whether or not masks are effective. According to the CDC, masks have proved successful in preventing the transmission of Covid-19. The virus spreads through tiny particles that can enter another individual’s body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. Wearing a mask significantly reduces the chances of such particles being transmitted by person-to-person contact.

The best next step is making masks optional.

— Mrs. Giuliana

Mask-wearing is just one of several preventative techniques that have shown strong results. The Mayo Clinic advises that taking precautionary measures such as vaccination, hand washing, and social distancing all greatly reduce the chances of being infected with Covid-19. From a recent report on vaccination numbers by the state of Massachusetts, 85% of people twelve and older in Middlesex county are fully vaccinated. However, Mrs. Giuliana, Director Of Nursing at RMHS affirmed that vaccination rates at the high school are even stronger. “88% of our students are fully vaccinated and 90% have had at least one dose of the vaccine,” she relayed. 

With the Omicron surge not long behind us, many people are left wondering if it is the correct time to remove masks. Mrs. Giuliana expressed that the high levels of student vaccination and pool testing participation have created a much safer environment to do so. “The best next step is making masks optional,” she said. “So there will still be a number of people, including myself because in health offices you’ll still have to wear masks and I think a number of people will feel more comfortable still wearing masks.”

At RMHS, case numbers have significantly decreased in line with the waning of the Omicron variant-related cases throughout the state. Over the past few months, the school-offered pooled testing has given families an additional way of testing their children for Covid-19. Data collected from the pooled testing has demonstrated a decline in case numbers at the school since the last break. “We’ve been doing that (pooled testing) weekly since we got back from Christmas vacation, and I think we’ve seen the surge come down now. In our first week we had thirty-three positive pools and last week we had three,” Mrs. Giuliana revealed. 

Recently, the district has launched another initiative to distribute rapid Covid-19 testing kits to any families who ordered them through the school. This is in hopes of providing further sense of security to community members, especially in the time period following February break. The ultimate purpose is to create a greater sense of security and accessibility within the school district, regardless of the decision the school committee will make.