Cambridge Public Schools Lift Mask Mandate

Margaret Unger, Metro Editor

For the first time in over a year, beginning on March 14th, CPS students were granted the option to remove their masks indoors. This coincides with falling COVID-19 cases nationwide, but members of the CRLS community are divided over whether the time is right for this step. Indoor masking has been required in all CPS buildings since in-person learning resumed in the 2020-2021 school year. Recently, COVID-19 cases have plummeted, and Massachusetts lifted the mask mandate for schools on February 28th, leaving further decisions up to local districts.

In Cambridge, this decision involved the Cambridge Public Health Department (CPHD), the School Committee, and Superintendent Victoria Greer. CPHD spokesperson Dawn Baxter ex5plained to the Register Forum in an email interview, “While we provide advice, the decisions about implementation of various strategies ultimately fall to Dr. Greer.” Superintendent Greer announced a proposal to lift the mandate in a district-wide video on March 2nd, but the final decision was not announced until March 10th. Leading up to this announcement, many students and staff discussed the possibility during school. These conversations focused on recent data trends: 81% of CRLS students are fully vaccinated and the COVID-19 positivity rate in Cambridge has fallen to 1.09% from a mid- January peak of 8.64%, according to the City of Cambridge’s COVID-19 data tracker. Eli Darien ’23 expressed to the Register Forum, “The numbers are lowest, the vaccines are very effective … we have to return to normalcy at some point and this is a good time.”

81% of CRLS students are fully vaccinated and the COVID-19 positivity rate in Cambridge has fallen to 1.09% from a mid- January peak of 8.64%”

A Community Meeting presentation on March 9th covered the different choices individuals may make regarding masks and the importance of respecting everyone’s decisions. CRLS biology teacher Mr. Paul McGuinness shared a similar sentiment with the Register Forum, saying in an email interview, “I think it’s OK to make masks optional but encourage anyone who is immunocompromised or not vaccinated to continue to wear them and to test.” He added, “I know many students want to continue to mask for many different reasons and it’s critical that we support them and anyone who wants to continue masking.”

Some members of the community express discomfort around the lifting of the mask mandate, however. Judy Epstein ’23 told the Register Forum, “I already feel a lot of stress around the potential of getting COVID at school … without the masks I just can’t imagine what my base level of stress would be.” Caroline Allan ’23 explained to the Register Forum, “I’m a little bit wary of doing it now … I would like a bit more time for cases to go down more.” In her official announcement, Superintendent Greer emphasized that as the pandemic evolves, so will Cambridge’s response. She wrote, “The Health, Safety, and Facilities Working Group is developing recommendations to … continue to inform us. There may be instances where masks will need to be reinstated.” The end to the mask mandate may be one sign of approaching normalcy after over two years of the pandemic, but for the time being, many students and staff will continue to mask up, while some will not.

This piece also appears in our March 2022 print edition.