WAKEFIELD — A statewide mandate requiring almost all K-12 students and staff to wear masks in schools will be lifted at the end of the month, the Baker administration announced today, marking a major transition nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will allow the existing requirement to lapse on Feb. 28 without another extension. In place of the statewide mandate, DESE will recommend that masks continue to feature in certain scenarios. Gov. Charlie Baker said the Department of Early Education and Care will also update its guidance to reflect a similar change.

The Wakefield School Committee last night discussed the practical steps that would be needed to eliminate mask mandates in local schools.

Superintendent Doug Lyons said that the number of COVID cases in the schools reported last week was half the number of the previous week, mirroring sharp downward trends seen in the population as a whole.

Lyons noted that there are currently three policies governing mask requirements in local schools. There is the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) policy, the town mask mandate for all public buildings and the schools’ own mask policy.

Lyons said that he anticipates an update from the Wakefield Health Department next week regarding the mask requirement in town buildings. He added that the Policy and Communications Subcommittee would also be looking at any changes that might be made to the school policy.

The Wakefield Board of Health has said that it will review its mask mandate for all Wakefield public buildings at its March 15 meeting, but that date is expected to move up in light of plummeting COVID case counts.

School Committee member Thomas Markham said that the time was right to be having the conversation on masks, noting that many parents and students are ready to dispense with them, while others are not. Like Lyons, he expected more guidance in the next week or so.

Lyons said that his office has been getting steady feedback on the mask issue and was trying to “represent everybody.”

It was suggested that the School Department could adjust its policy fairly quickly if appropriate, as the School Committee meets almost every week for the next couple of months.

Veilleux noted that Wakefield Health Director Anthony Chui would be at next week’s School Committee meeting to provide an update. Chui also serves as Health Director for the city of Melrose, which dropped its indoor mask mandate yesterday. Yesterday’s decision did not apply to Melrose schools, which are still covered by the statewide DESE order.

School districts can still choose to establish their own local requirements, and Baker said today that the administration will “fully support” individuals who choose to mask up once the mandate lifts.

The shift, Baker said, will bring a sense of “normalcy” back to classrooms after enormous disruptions in three different academic years.

“COVID, like many other respiratory illnesses we’re familiar with, will be with us for the foreseeable future,” Baker said, adding that the availability of vaccines, tests and treatments allows officials to manage the risks. Wakefield Public Schools have already modified their COVID testing program in response to the changing landscape.

Lyons asked School Business Administrator Christine Bufagna to review at last night’s meeting the new COVID testing protocol now being used by the schools.

Bufagna explained that Wakefield schools have decided to opt in to the new At-Home COVID testing program recommended by the DESE.

As part of this shift in the program, the Wakefield Public Schools are discontinuing “Test-and-Stay” and contact tracing for in-school close contacts. This means that if a student is a potential contact in school, they may continue to come to school and do not have to quarantine. This new at-home testing opportunity is voluntary and only those who opt-in will receive tests.

Two free test kits will be provided every other week for families who opt their children into the program. Bufagna noted that to date, about 2,000 students have been opted into the new testing program.

The at-home program calls for students to take the test at home on Monday morning, Bufagna said. If they test negative, they’re good to come to school. If a student receives a positive test result, parents must complete the positive test form for the school nurse.