As the school year approaches, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has updated its school community Covid guidance, and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has adapted these guidelines for districts within the state.
Citing the availability of vaccines and treatments for Covid, DESE has removed the universal mask mandate and ended the Covid screening program for asymptomatic students. This year, testing will be available only for symptomatic individuals who are in school; districts will need to foot the bill for this as the state will no longer supply tests.
The CDC is largely in agreement with this plan, however, it does recommend increasing mitigation strategies, including testing, masking and limiting high-risk activities if the community risk level is high, there are increased absentee rates or if there is an outbreak. Masking will continue to be required in all school health offices
If an exposure occurs, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health recommends the exposed individual mask for 10 days after the exposure, with a test on day six. For those who test positive, isolation is still required through day five; masking is recommended for those who are able to wear one through day 10 OR masking can be eliminated with a negative test on or after day five. For those with symptoms of Covid and a negative test, masking and a repeat test 48 hours later are recommended.
CDC and DESE recommend widespread vaccination as the best means of prevention, and ensuring students are up-to-date on all childhood vaccines, including the Covid vaccine, remains a priority. Massachusetts students are already required to have several vaccines; these requirements change based on the age of the student and can be found here.
Districts are encouraged to hold Covid vaccination clinics prior to the start of the school year, and there are several state run Covid vaccine clinics already scheduled.
Continuing to work on ventilation upgrades, proper hand hygiene and surface cleaning should also be a priority for school districts as a means of prevention. School districts and local health agencies are advised to monitor community risk levels, hospitalization rates and wastewater Covid rates to help with decision-making and determining the need for implementing mitigation strategies.
Per DESE, Covid-related school closures will be counted against the required 180 school days per academic year, just as snow days would be. Districts are encouraged to allow students to live-stream class activities when feasible to reduce absenteeism.