Facing backlash, Baker defends state’s masking guidance

Coronavirus

BOSTON (WPRI) — One of Gov. Charlie Baker’s democratic opponents for governor says the state’s mask advisory is not enough.

The Republican has faced backlash in recent days after the state issued a recommendation, but not a requirement, for some residents and some students to wear masks indoors.

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the country where the Delta variant is fueling infection surges.

The agency also recommended masking up indoors for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors at schools nationwide regardless of vaccination status.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) issued similar recommendations, but only advised fully vaccinated individuals “to wear a mask or face covering when indoors (and not in your own home) if you have a weakened immune system, or if you are at increased risk for severe disease because of your age or an underlying medical condition, or if someone in your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is an unvaccinated adult.”

The DPH also reiterated all unvaccinated residents should continue to wear masks in indoor settings and when they can’t socially distance.

All people in Massachusetts, regardless of vaccination status, are also still required to wear masks in certain areas like public transportation and healthcare settings.

Separately, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recommended all students and teachers in grades K-6 wear masks indoors, while grades 7 and up only need to wear face coverings if not vaccinated.

Downing said in a statement he’s urging Baker “to implement a mask mandate that mirrors the CDC’s updated guidance on COVID-19 transmission rates, affirmatively work with school districts on guidelines for mask mandates across the Commonwealth, and require vaccination of all state employees.”

“Parents, workers, and families deserve much better than haphazard public health guidance from state leadership on Beacon Hill,” he added.

Baker recently argued the state’s guidance is focused on targeting the most vulnerable, adding that Massachusetts is in a different place with COVID-19 cases than other parts of the country are in.

“Different communities are in different places. You have some communities in Massachusetts where 85-95% of all the kids in their middle and high school are vaccinated. You have many other districts in Massachusetts where the numbers are far, far smaller,” Baker said.

“Again, I don’t think you can apply a national standard to a state that is in the kind of space that we’re in,” he added.

According to CDC data released Monday, Barnstable and Nantucket counties are in the “high” transmission rate category, with Bristol, Essex, Hampden, Middlesex, Plymouth, Suffolk, and Worcester counties in the “substantial” zone.

Earlier this week, Sen. Becca Rausch, who represents parts of Bristol County, filed a bill to mandate universal masking among students and staff in all K-12 schools and childcare programs.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association’s Board of Directors also unanimously voted on Monday to support the mandatory use of face coverings in public schools from Pre-K through higher education “as part of a multipronged strategy to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

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