BOSTON (WPRI) — Aiming to protect people who may be more vulnerable to the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus, Massachusetts health officials updated their mask-wearing guidance on Friday.
The Mass. Department of Public Health announced it’s now recommending that fully vaccinated individuals wear face coverings indoors in public if they have a weakened immune system or are at increased risk for severe illness due to age or an underlying condition, or if a member of their household is at greater risk or unvaccinated.
“This new guidance was developed to be as simple and straightforward as possible,” Gov. Charlie Baker said. “The reason we believe to do statewide guidance is: what if you live in one county, work in another? How is anybody supposed to keep track?”
People who are not yet vaccinated are still advised to wear masks when they’re unable to maintain social distancing.
All people in Massachusetts, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear masks in certain settings such as on public transportation and in health care facilities.
The changes stem from updated guidelines put out by the CDC earlier this week, which recommend the use of masks indoors in areas with high transmission rates or when other risk factors are present.
The New Bedford Health Department took it a step further Friday, saying it’s following the CDC’s guidelines and recommending that people in the city wear masks at indoor gatherings, noting that Bristol County is considered to have “substantial transmission” of the virus.
The Health Department is also advising, under the CDC’s guidelines, that fully vaccinated people get tested three to five days after known exposure and wear a mask for 14 days or until a negative test result is received.
When it comes to schools, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education suggested that all students and teachers in grades K-6 wear masks indoors, while grades 7 and above only need to wear them if unvaccinated.
“Kids under the age of 12 aren’t eligible yet to be vaccinated. We would recommend they all wear a mask,” Baker said Friday.
In response to the department’s recommendations, the Massachusetts chapter of the American Federation of Teachers put out a statement calling on the state to require universal mask use for grades K-6.
“The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education needs to listen to health experts, including the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and require – not just recommend – universal mask wearing in K-6 schools this fall,” union president Beth Kontos wrote. “If DESE continues to reject public health guidance and fails to act, local school committees need to step up and require universal mask wearing to keep us all safe and to maximize the likelihood of schools staying open this school year.”
“We all want a safe and productive return to school in September, and with the surge of the incredibly contagious delta variant and vaccine disinformation threatening the progress we’ve made against COVID, we need to use all the public health tools we have to stop the spread and keep schools open for in-person learning,” Kontos continued. “Until we can get all school-aged kids vaccinated, basic public health precautions like masking are the bare minimum needed to keep our students and their vulnerable family members safe.”
Across the border in Rhode Island, officials said they are strongly recommending that all students and teachers wear masks in schools, but have not updated their statewide guidance.