R.I. recommending universal mask wearing in schools

A STUDENT wears a face mask while doing work at his desk at the Post Road Elementary School, in White Plains, N.Y., in 2020. Rhode Island announced on Wednesday that it recommends universal mask wearing in schools, regardless of vaccination status. (AP PHOTO/MARY ALTAFFER)

PROVIDENCE – With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Rhode Island, the state on Wednesday said it is recommending universal mask use within school settings, regardless of vaccination status, when the 2021-22 school year begins.

Gov. Daniel J. McKee’s office said the recommendation aligns with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent updates to mask wearing. The governor, R.I. Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green and R.I. Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott jointly said that they “strongly” recommend school districts set a policy that requires masks to be worn in schools this fall.

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McKee’s office also said the state will continue to monitor the CDC’s guidance and update the state’s recommendations “as necessary.” McKee’s office also said that now is the time for eligible staff and students to get vaccinated, as vaccinations are “the most powerful tool we have as we work towards a full return to in-person learning in the fall.”

The recommendation comes a month after state officials announced new guidance on a return to in-person schooling. At the time, the R.I. Department of Education said the state strongly recommends that education agencies require all unvaccinated individuals wear masks while indoors, and mask use for fully vaccinated individuals was optional.

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Additionally, the announcement comes as the state is still addressing various vaccine challenges for children with the new school year on the horizon. There is currently no vaccine available for children younger than 12.

Also, vaccination rates for those younger than 18 in Rhode Island remain low, especially younger than age 14. Fifty-seven percent of children ages 15-18 were at least partially vaccinated and 50% fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, according to RIDOH data.

For those ages 14 and younger, just 10% are partially vaccinated and 9% are fully vaccinated. However, it was not clear what percentage of eligible children in that age bracket, ages 12-14, had been vaccinated.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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  1. Flawed thinking as usual. Real smart to take away one of the few reasons to get your child vaccinated against a disease that carries extremely low risk for children (and fully vaccinated adults). Do you really think you’re going to change the behavior of those who do not want to get vaccinated with this mandate? If you really believe masking is the answer then how do you ever argue to ever get rid of the mask…..since under that logic you should wear a mask forever to protect against ALL viruses, flu and yet to be discovered new variants and viruses. And perhaps that’s really the goal of all this.

    For the unvaccinated, we have the “seatbelt”, if the “driver” chooses not to wear it, the driver suffers the consequences not everyone else. So set up a thinly-staffed field hospital to deal with COVID cases and reserve the hospitals for non-Covid cases so the vaccinated can move on with their lives. Priority treatment and hospital beds should no longer go to unvaccinated Covid patients. That’s one approach that’s equitable and stands a better chance of incentivizing people to get vaccinated rather than requiring ALL to wear a mask again. Requiring all to wear masks again is akin to requiring everyone to ride their bikes instead of driving because some drivers choose not to wear their seatbelt. Ridiculous.