Covid Update: School Committee asked to vote on Wednesday to immediately lift mask mandate

This week’s Covid data is good news. Reports showed the lowest testing positivity rates and  2 week case counts since before Thanksgiving, and the lowest one week case count since before Halloween. You can scroll down for those details.

But first, I want to provide more detail on an item I highlighted in my week in government meetings post yesterday.

School Committee to vote on moving up lifting of PreK-5 mask mandate to Thursday

The NSBORO administration is recommending that the mask mandates for elementary schools be lifted effective this Thursday, March 3rd. That is for all Northborough – Southborough public elementary schools. (Algonquin Regional High School and the middle schools are already mask optional.)

The message also stated that, as of yesterday, masking is optional on buses for upper schoolers. Once committees vote to lift masks in the elementary schools, the same will be true for their buses. At the time of February committee votes on the schedule for lifting in-class requirements, federal mandates still required masks on public transportation. 

The revised recommendation for PreK-5 comes less than two weeks after the administration urged for the change to wait until March 14th. It was a position that some committee members questioned but voted to support. At the February 17th joint meeting of the Southborough and Northborough School Committees, administrators argued they needed the extra time to prepare children to not judge others for their decisions.

The reversal was announced in a Sunday message from Superintendent Gregory Martineau to families. He pointed to revised federal guidance as the rationale:

on Friday, February 25, 2022, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced that it is lifting its indoor masking guidance for communities that meet its low or medium criteria. Currently, the Worcester County community level is Medium.

No clear explanation was provided as to why the long preparation time was no longer considered necessary. (For those of you without children in the schools, it’s worth noting that school was on break last week. That means only two school days passed between the initial decision and the revised one.)

But, in the February meeting, District Physician Safdar Medina said they hoped that extending the mandates would allow time for the bus policy to change. He indicated that it would be confusing for young students to be going back and forth with masks and no masks between the school and buses.

In Martineau’s emailed update, he wrote:

In preparation for when the masking requirement is lifted, I am asking educators to have a conversation with their students that as masking moves from a requirement to a choice, each individual’s choice must be respected. . .

As the masking requirement becomes optional, it is essential that we continue to create safe and accepting learning environments. Students, faculty, and staff need to feel comfortable exercising their option to either wear or not wear masks. Modeling the power of choice and accepting others is key to preparing students for the next grade level, school transition, or college/career. I ask for your support in this endeavor.

This time, there won’t be a joint meeting to consider the policy change. Instead, the Northborough School Committee will consider the change at their regularly scheduled meeting tonight.

The Southborough School Committee will hold a special meeting this Wednesday evening at 5:30 pm to vote on the recommendation. (Click here for the agenda and zoom link.) The Medical Advisory Team will participate in both meetings.

Since part of the discussion on mask decisions include the level of cases in the community and vaccination levels, below is my updated data for Southborough and NSBORO.

Updated Case, Testing, and Vaccination Data

As of Monday morning, only 9 new/probable cases were reported in town in six days. That’s the lowest since before Halloween. Only 10 cases were still in isolation. The most recent state report shows a continuing decline in testing positivity rates based on tests taken through February 19th. The 2.19% positivity is the lowest since before Thanksgiving.

You can view my updated graphs and a look at the regional map below: 

Feb 28 - tracking Covid in Southborough Feb 28 - Confirmed per Day in Southborough over 14 days Feb 28 - Cumulative total Covid in Southborough Feb 28 - Covid by ages in Southborough over time Feb 28 - Covid by ages in Southborough

Feb 24 - Southborough Testing and Positivity Rates Feb 24 - Southborough covid map

NSBORO’s data shows 8 cases reported across all three districts for the Dashboard covering February 17th-25th. It’s the lowest number of weekly cases since mid-September. But, keep in mind that the period overlapping vacation didn’t include a weekly screening. Daily Counts for days since showed only 5 new cases reported since the Dashboard (2 from Neary and 1 from Algonquin). 

Below are my updated graphs based on the most recent dashboard, plus their vaccination rate chart for each school:

Feb 23 - New cases in NSBORO schools by week Feb 23 - Testing in NSBORO schools NSBORO Vax Rates

And below is my updated vaccination data for Southborough:

Feb 22 - Residents vaccinated by age Feb 22 - Vaccinations-table Feb 22 - Fully Vaxxed and Booster progress by age group Feb 22 - Partially Vaxxed by age group

Updated (3/1/22 12:12 pm): NSBORO’s Year to Date in the Daily Counts have been corrected. (Initially, I wondered if lower counts meant that some had later been reported as false positives. They weren’t.) I also corrected that Neary’s cases were 2 yesterday, not 1.

Updated (3/1/22 12:21 pm): I missed that Daily Case Count corrections for 2/19-2/25 indicated three additional cases in other schools after the 23rd. Plus, I added another detail worth highlighting. The NSBORO Dashboard case counts were the lowest they’ve tracked since the Dashboard ending September 12th. But, keep in mind that the period overlapping February break didn’t include a weekly screening.

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