Board of Health Meeting Contentious Over HS Mask Mandate

The Weston Board of Health held its regular monthly meeting this morning at 10 am, probably aware that its agenda item of Indoor Mask Order/Mandate for schools: K-12, Public and Private would bring some ummmm… discussion. And it did not disappoint.

Before they could get through to the main part of the agenda, it was time for resident comments. Three residents (two related to each other) brought up the plexiglass barriers that are being used at the elementary schools to separate kids at lunch time. Concerns were brought that these barriers have not been proven to help stop the spread of the virus, and that forcing children as young as five to be so separated is unncessary. The question was brought about when these could be removed. The first comment back from the Board of Health is that the shields were put in place because children are less than six feet apart at lunch, and obviously maskless. The second one was that this is a schools decision not Board of Health.

How Elementary Kids are having lunch. Courtesy Photo

On the general Covid overview, it was mentioned that Weston’s only institution of higher learning, Regis College, has stopped testing as of November 1st of all those who are vaccinated. This will cause a drop in the overall Weston numbers of how many tests are given. One of the likely reasons Regis has instituted this change is the high cost of testing–higher education does not have the benefit of federal funding of tests.

While the video is not available at this time (and will be posted here when available), the numbers of positive cases in Westion over the last four months are:

July 57

August 73

September 70

Octtober 61

These numbers include residents, students and employees in town.

Michele Schuckel, the unbelievably patient Covid-19 Response Manager for Weston, said that spread is not in school settings, but more in socializing situations. She emphasized that communication is key –and that it is really okay to ask if someone you are planning to carpool with or socialize with is vaccinated. She also shared a detailed chart of safer ways to celebrate the upcoming holidays.

Ms. Schuckel also spent some time explaining how the Pfizer vaccine approved for 5-12 year olds is different from the 12+ age group vaccine. While it is also 2 doses, 3 weeks apart, it is not interchangeable with the 12+ vaccine. The dose is less than that for adults, and that it is not by body weigh but about how the immune system changes as we get older. The vaccine for the “littles” is calibrated for their immune system.

The discussion then turned to the Board of Health mask mandate and if that could be lifted for the schools which have 80% vaccination rates (as allowed by DESE) so that the public school could apply for a waiver to mask rules from the state. Private schools do not need a waiver. The current vaccination rate in Weston High School is 100% for facutlty and staff at the high school, and 89.4% of students in grades 9-12. The private schools have an even higher rate in this age cattegory.

Image Credit: Weston Board of Health

All high schools in Weston would be affected by the lifing of the Board of Health mask mandate. Again, it’s only the public high school that would have a second step when they would need to further apply for a waiver to the state mask mandates. It was clarified that the unvaccinated individuals would need to stay masked.

One resident spoke up that Weston had already set up metrics for releasing the mas mandate and these metrics had not been applied, making them completely irrelevant, and creating a credibility gap. The students have followed the call to get vaccinated, with 89.4%, but have fallen off the testing bandwagon with a dismal 25% testing rate where the metric is at 65%. As a personal opinion, and as the mom of two high schoolers, I think that the high schoolers are very skeptical that even with testing that mask rules will be lifted.

There were many comments and questions about why the Board of Health would not lift the mask order immdiately. It appears that the private schools have asked for more time to get their policies in place. I am not sure why this time is actually needed because even if the Weston Board of Health lifted the mask mandate, they are private schools and set their rules on masks. They would not need to loosen that right away. File this under things I didn’t understand at the meeting. Watch the video….

Not Weston High School

Hopkinton’s high school was mentioned as one place over 80% vaccination that had applied for and gotten a waiver from the state school mask mandate. They are currently running a three-week test which started on November 1. Please note that Hopkinton has approximately 1,100 students in grades 9-12. Weston has 647 students in 9-12 at the Owl’s last count. 1….2….3…

There were some ideas about waiting until December 1 to lift the mask order, or even later, due to the impending Thansgiving holiday. Thoughts were expressed about having to wear masks the week after Thanksgiving. Again, it mysteifies me why this would be mandated only at the schools while the rest of Weston, outside of public buildings, are mask-optional for vaccinated people.

At this point, the meeting had gone over the two hour mark. Sometime late in the game Superintendent Midge Connolly signed onto the meeting and said that if the Board of Health mandate is lifted, the schools could apply immediately to the state for a waiver to the state mask mandate. No school committee meeting was technically necessary for the approval of such a waiver application. I also understand that even if Weston High School were granted a waiver, it would not necessarily or authomatically mean that the school would take advantage of it. [update 11/4: it appears that Weston Public Schools must wait until November 15 now to apply for the waiver. Confirmation shortly].

Final decision: The mask mandate appears to be lifted by the Board of Health (given at least 80% vaccination rate at grades 9-12) on November 15. What the schools will do with this is obviously going to be the next bone of contention.

Video will be posted when available.

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