Masks “strongly recommended” but not required in Abington schools

Abington school children will not have to wear masks when classes resume in September.

Abington Schools Superintendent Peter Schafer told parents and guardians in an email Friday that the department will not make masks mandatory – as of now – but that face coverings are still a really good idea.

“To be clear, masks will not be required but strongly recommended for all students and staff who are unvaccinated,” he wrote. 

The Abington Board of Health had planned on making a recommendation to the School Committee about masks at a meeting Monday night. The meeting was cancelled following Schafer’s email. 

COVID cases are spiking again nationwide as the highly contagious Delta variant sweeps through. Although the infection rates are generally higher in states with lower vaccination rates, Massachusetts is also seeing an uptick, as is Abington.

According to public health department numbers there are currently 25 Abington residents battling a COVID infection. Although that number is significantly lower than previous peaks, there were no active cases in Abington as recently as one month ago.

“The more contagious Delta variant’s viral load is almost 1000x higher than previous and shedding starts a day or two earlier than previous variants,” Marty Golightly, the town’s public health director, told Abington News. “Vaccines are still effective especially against serious cases hospitalizations and deaths. We do know that asymptomatic vaccinated individuals can still carry and infect others. Household members who are still ineligible to get the vaccine are at the most risk.”

Of the state’s 4.4 million fully vaccinated people, just under 10,000 have contracted COVID following their shots this year. By comparison, there were nearly 10,000 new positive COVID cases among the entire general population this week alone. 

Just 56 percent of Abington residents are fully vaccinated, according to state data released Aug. 12, including 37 percent of those ages 12-17. 

The Abington Board of Health, Abington Health Department, and Abington Public Schools will hold a vaccination clinic for students 12+ on Wednesday, August 25, from 11 a.m. to 3 pm. The clinic will be held in the High School gymnasium and is voluntary. Those interested must pre-register through the Health Department website. Parents/guardians must be present during the vaccination. The second dose clinic will be given Sept. 9 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

“The Abington School Committee will not be adopting a mandatory mask policy at this time. This is subject to change as new data is made available,” Schafer wrote in his email. 

Schafer told Abington News that although he personally feels those who are not vaccinated should wear masks, he is following the lead of the school community, School Committee, state Department of Early and Secondary Education, and state Department of Health.

“I always worry about all kids, families, faculty and staff, it’s who I am. I know everyone feels this way no matter what the opinion on masks,” he said. “Children under the age of 12 cannot get a vaccine. I worry about those students the most.”

State guidelines currently “strongly recommend” that all students K-6 mask-up when indoors. Masks can be removed while outdoors and while eating indoors. Students unable to wear masks because of health or behavioral issues also can go maskless.

 The guidelines also say unvaccinated students, staff, and visitors should also wear masks while indoors, while vaccinated students and staff can go maskless. The guidelines stop short of instituting any sort of mandate, however.

Students and staff will have to wear masks while on school buses and in school health offices. 

News that the Board of Health was scheduling to vote on a mask recommendation generated a number of angry comments on the town Facebook pages. 

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