The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is encouraging — though not requiring — that unvaccinated students and staff members in kindergarten to grade 12 wear masks indoors, according to guidance released Friday morning.
“DESE and DPH [Department of Health] strongly recommend that all students in kindergarten through grade 6 wear masks when indoors, except students who cannot do so due to medical conditions or behavioral needs,” the department’s guidance reads. “DESE and DPH also strongly recommend that unvaccinated staff in all grades, unvaccinated students in grades 7 and above, and unvaccinated visitors wear masks indoors.”
DESE guidance adds that “masks are not necessary outdoors and may be removed while eating indoors.”
However, as laid out in federal public health guidelines, students and staff must wear masks while on school buses.
The new guidance comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended Tuesday that vaccinated Americans again start wearing masks indoors over concerns stemming from the coronavirus Delta variant’s transmissibility.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters the Delta variant — which is now the dominant COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] variant in the United States — “behaves uniquely differently” compared to earlier strains.
“The Delta variant is showing every day its willingness to outsmart us,” she said.
In “rare” cases in which a fully vaccinated person is infected with the variant, they may be able to spread the virus, she added. To prevent that spread, the CDC updated its guidelines to encourage fully vaccinated people to wear a mask in indoor public spaces in areas of high transmission of coronavirus.
Walensky also said anyone inside a K-12 school — students, teachers, administrators and visitors — should wear a mask regardless of vaccination status.
The UPI contributed to this report.