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BPS Anticipates a Temporary Mask Mandate on the Horizon

According to a letter provided to families at the start of the holiday, BPS students may be wearing masks again after winter break. The triple threat of the flu, COVID, and RSV have school administrators thinking about precautions.

“(W) while you are on winter break, we will continue to meet with the Boston Public Health Commission to discuss any potential changes to our COVID protocols, such as a temporary masking mandate for the first two weeks of school after the break,” BPS Superintendent Mary Skipper wrote in a letter to parents and educators.

COVID-BPS instances increased by 19 over the holidays, from 125 in the week before Thanksgiving to 341 in the week before Christmas break. They have, however, remained below the early school year highs — peaking at 454 instances reported between Sept. 22 and Sept. 28 — and well below the highs reported during the Omicron spike last winter, when weekly cases often exceeded 1,000.

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The district will notify parents of any protocol changes by the end of the week “at the latest,” according to Skipper. “This will ensure that we are making judgments based on the most up-to-date facts,” Skipper wrote in the Dec. 22 notice.

“Given last year’s experience with a major increase in COVID and its impact on staffing shortages and student absences, we believe this interim policy change may help alleviate any worries as we return from winter break.”

Several parents have spoken out about their concerns for their children’s safety at recent school committee meetings. Boston public schools are considering a temporary mask rule for two weeks following the winter break.

Masking policies should be reinstated in schools “for as long as necessary to keep us all healthy and safe during this holiday season and especially as we enter into even colder days in February,” argued Betsy Yoshimura, mother of a third grader at the Mario Umana Academy, at a school committee meeting on December 14.

Aside from COVID-19, schools have also been dealing with an increase in RSV and flu cases, which has been dubbed a . The diseases have added to the already serious staffing shortfall in BPS schools. As of early December, the BPS reported 201 available teaching positions and posted approximately 280 substitute teacher vacancies online that were open to applications.

Schools are trying to cover classrooms with teachers and, in some circumstances, support workers as staff absences rise. The district continues to promote the need of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and receive yearly flu injections, and every two weeks sends kids home with a COVID testing kit.

The Boston Public Health Commission recommended that BPS terminate its last mask mandate in June 2022. “Whether the holidays are about spending time with those you care about, supporting those in need, or simply recharging and sleeping, I wish you a safe, healthy, and quiet Christmas season,” Skipper added.

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