What many people were saying was going to happen, it was only a matter of time, has finally happened. School kids are going to have to continue wearing facemasks for a little longer, at least.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced on Monday that the state’s mask mandate for public schools has been extended through the end of February because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases among staff and students.

Everyone from students, parents, and teachers had been awaiting a decision from Education Commissioner Jeff Riley on whether he would leave in place the mask mandate. The mandate was set to expire this coming Saturday, January 15.

According to a media statement from the DESE, the extension of the mask requirement was based on public health data. But, just like in the past, mask requirements may be lifted if schools can prove that at least 80% of the students and staff within a school building are fully vaccinated.

The decision to extend the mask mandate through February 28 comes amid an omicron-fueled spike in new cases. The spike in cases between Dec. 23 and Jan. 5 was more than two-and-a-half times the number of new cases reported in the previous two-week span.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education had this to say as part of the media statement:

The mask requirement remains an important measure to keep students safe in school at this time....The Department will continue to work with medical experts and state health officials to evaluate the mask requirement beyond February 28.

The mask mandate extension calls on schools to follow certain guidelines including:

  • Public school students (age 5 and above) and staff in all grades are required to wear masks indoors in schools, except as noted below. Masks are not required when outdoors. All visitors are also expected to wear a mask in school buildings.
  • It is strongly recommended that students younger than age 5 also wear a mask in school.
  • The mask requirement applies when students and staff are indoors at school, except when eating or drinking or during mask breaks.

There are other guidelines, as well. To check out the full list of guidelines or for more on the story, please visit the DESE's website here.

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