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Return to masks indoors recommended at public schools

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UPDATED: With Covid-19 case numbers again rising in Middlesex County, Arlington Public School students and staff face a recommendation that all resume wearing masks indoors.

In an email to the community Sunday, May 8, Dr. Elizabeth Homan, the school superintendent, “strongly recommends” this step as part of Covid-19 safety measures for the week of May 9. reported May 9 that Cambridge and Belmont school leaders have made similar pleas.

She called the rates “rapidly increasing” and promised another update May 15 as to whether the recommendation will be extended. The School Committee of APS is scheduled for its next regular meeting the evening of May 12; Homan typically reports at every APS meeting on all matters of consequence including the pandemic situation.

The recommendation is for students and staff at all of the town's public schools to “wear masks while indoors, except when necessary for eating or drinking.”

She continued: “This recommendation applies to all schools without mask requirements currently in place. Mask requirements are currently in place at Dallin Elementary School, Gibbs Middle School and Menotomy Preschool. Masking requirements are determined at the local level and when necessary will be messaged by the school principal in collaboration with the superintendent.” Preschool pupils and those caring for them were already required to be masked indoors given that most of the children there are currently deemed too young for Covid-19 vaccination.

Explanations for recommendation

The email offers these explanations for the recommendation for indoor masking:

    1. Middlesex County transmission levels are currently rated “high,” and the CDC recommends masking indoors at this transmission level. These measures are based on both hospitalization rates and new cases.
    2. Arlington Public Schools cases reached 159 total last week, the highest case rates since early in the Omicron surge.
    3. Significant rates of Covid-19 infection in the town's public schools have the potential to keep students out of school for significant periods of time; and
    4. Significant rates of Covid-19 infection here have the potential to compromise the ability to adequately staff schools.

Homan noted that “this is a temporary recommendation, not a requirement.”

Continue monitoring

She added that “we will be continuing our monitoring of ventilation, doing additional testing and providing access to home testing where necessary, and emphasizing the importance and use of air purifiers and open windows.”

She wrote that the recommendations continue to be made in consultation with the Arlington Department of Health and Human Services “and in the interest of meeting our top priority: maintaining adequate staffing levels for safety and supportive learning environments in our schools.”  

Meanwhile, the APS Dashboard is continually kept up to date with current town and school case rates and pooled testing information. Positive cases, both from pooled testing and from cases that are reported on the reporting form, are updated throughout the week, and pooled testing information will be available at the end of each week.

Homan asks the public to report positive cases in any given household to APS, to test any public-school student if symptomatic and to let an APS staff member know if assistance is needed in gaining access to additional home tests. As well, the Town of Arlington continues to support efforts to combat the pandemic, as follows: 

Moderna Booster Clinic, May 12, 11AM-noon – Appointments required
Rapid Antigen Testing, May 10 and 12, 9AM-10AM – Walk in
Rapid Molecular Testing (PCR), Appointments required

Patch, May 7: Arlington hits 4.33% positivity rate

This news announcement was published Monday, May 9, 2022, and updated later that day with details of testing availability through the town and the fact that the next School Committee meeting -- at which pandemic updates are typically given -- is set for May 12.

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