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BPS forecasts possible temporary mask mandate on the horizon

After winter break, BPS students may be back in masks for a bit, according to a letter sent out to families at the start of the break.

The triple threat of the flu, COVID and RSV has school officials looking at preventative measures.

“(W)hile you are away on your winter break, we will continue to meet with the Boston Public Health Commission to discuss any possible 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 detailed in a letter sent to parents and educators.

COVID-19 cases in BPS have spiked over the holidays, increasing from 125 in the week before Thanksgiving to 341 in the week before winter break.

However, they’ve remained below the early school year highs — peaking at 454 cases reported between Sept. 22 and Sept. 28 — and well below the highs reported during the Omicron surge last winter when weekly cases regularly held over 1,000.

The district will let parents know about any changes to protocols by the end of the week “at the latest,” Skipper said.

“This will ensure that we are using the most up-to-date data when making any decisions,” Skipper wrote in the Dec. 22 alert. “Based on last year’s experience with a significant surge in COVID and its impact on staffing shortages and student absences, we know this temporary policy change may help mitigate any concerns as we return from winter break.”

In recent school committee meetings, several parents have been outspoken about fears for their children’s safety if cases continue to rise.

Schools should reintroduce masking policies “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 in February” argued Betsy Yoshimura, mother of a third grader at the Mario Umana Academy at the Dec. 14 school committee meeting.

Beyond COVID-19, schools have also fought through a recent surge in RSV and flu cases — a combination that has been called a “tripledemic.”

The illnesses have put an increased pressure on a already critical staffing shortage in BPS schools.

BPS reported 201 open teaching positions and listed around 280 substitute teacher positions online open to applications as of early December. With staff absences on the upswing, schools are scrambling to cover classes with teachers and, in some cases, support staff.

The district continues to emphasize the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and yearly flu shots and sends kids home with a COVID testing kit every two weeks.

BPS ended their last mask mandate in June 2022 under the recommendation of the Boston Public Health Commission.

“Whether the holidays are about spending time with the ones you love, supporting those going through a difficult time, or just recharging and resting, I hope you have a safe, healthy and peaceful holiday season,” Skipper said.

Boston, MA : Noa Granados, 12, visiting from Barcelona Spain where the temperature was 70 degrees, plays with her brother ,not pictured, in the snow pile created by the Zamboni at the Frog Pond on Monday,December 26, 2022 in Boston, MA.(Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
Once school vacation fun is over, city schools may mandate masks for at least a few weeks. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald)
BOSTON, MA - December 26: Four year old Clark Miracco wears a mask at Logan Airport on December 26, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
Masking up remains the go-to public safety requirement in many places. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald)

BPS forecasts possible temporary mask mandate on the horizon

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