WAKEFIELD – Information shared at last night’s School Committee meeting points to the likelihood that kids in Wakefield public schools will be wearing masks for the foreseeable future, even if the 80 percent vaccination rate is met.
The statewide mask mandate for schools has been extended to at least Nov. 1, with schools able to appeal the requirement if they can demonstrate an 80 percent vaccination rate among students and staff.
Wakefield school administrators provided available vaccination figures for Wakefield Memorial High School, the one school in the district where everyone falls into an age group eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations.
The student vaccination rate at WMHS is 75 percent, School Business Administrator Christine Bufagna told the School Committee last night. Bufagna said that the state maintains a database of vaccination rates for schools. Data is still being collected for WMHS faculty and staff, only about half of whom have returned information.
School Superintendent Doug Lyons said that even if the high school were to reach the 80 percent vaccination rate, he would want to consult with the town’s Health Department before appealing to the state for permission to lift the mask mandate for WMHS.
On top of that, Lyons noted, the town still has a mask mandate in place for all municipal buildings, including schools. And then there’s the School Department’s own policy requiring masks.
Lyons said that the schools will continue to collect information in order to get the best possible data. He said that those who are not vaccinated will be asked if they want the vaccine and offered help to get it. He reiterated that even if a school were to reach 80 percent, he would want to consult with the Health Department before doing anything.
Lyons asked Health Director Anthony Chui, who was in attendance at last night’s meeting via Zoom, to weigh in.
Chui indicated that he would be reluctant to recommend lifting the mask mandate as we move into the colder weather and people spend more time indoors, increasing the spread of seasonal illness.
He said that he would “want to look at all the factors” before making any recommendation.
School Committee member Mike Boudreau wanted to know what it would take to end the mask mandate.
“Where is the finish line, if not 80 percent?” he asked. “People feel like this is never going to end.”
Chui said that once the vaccine is authorized for 5 to 11-year-olds, the 80 percent figure will have more meaning. “Then we can look at masks in schools being lifted,” he said.
Lyons also provided an update on the latest COVID numbers for the schools as well as in-school testing data.
He said that there were nine new student cases of COVID last week. Since the beginning of the school year, there have been 43 student cases and eight cases among staff.
He said that the schools have been doing symptomatic testing as well as utilizing a “test and stay” protocol, whereby asymptomatic individuals who have had close contact with a confirmed infection can take rapid tests daily to monitor for COVID-19 rather than quarantine.
As of yesterday, Lyons said, about 185 of these rapid tests had been administered, with one positive result. That individual was immediately sent to quarantine.
Lyons added that a new COVID nurse has been hired for the remainder of the school year using grant money. That nurse will primarily cover the two largest elementary schools, the Woodville and the Dolbeare, Lyons said.