Officials at a Massachusetts high school that became the first in the state to lift a universal mask mandate said even some initial skeptics were surprised by the success, finding no evidence of any COVID-19 transmission after a three-week trial.
The state allowed Hopkinton High School to lift the mandate after it reached a required 80% vaccination threshold, reported Boston.com,
The Hopkinton School Committee voted last week to extend the trial for another three weeks. Officials said one student tested positive for COVID-19 since the trial began Nov. 1, but the student contracted the virus outside of school. There was no evidence of any COVID-19 transmission in the school building.
Significantly, Boston.com reported, a survey found 70% of students and staff saw an improvement in their learning experience and a morale boost.
“The pilot was far more successful than what I had anticipated,” said Nancy Cavanaugh, the chairman of the school committee.
Jessie Ianelli, a high school student council member, said that without universal masking, students reported better class discussions and easier group work, as well as “contagious smiling,” Boston.com reported.
“It was just overall happier hallways and a more recognizable high school experience,” Ianelli said.
Many students had reported difficulties in language classes and headaches from wearing masks all day, as well as glasses or goggles fogging up. And gym class, with difficulties breathing, had been a major issue.
In a separate survey, teachers and school staff said it was easier to communicate and connect with students.
A smaller number of teachers and students said they felt uncomfortable near unmasked peers and generally less safe.
The school committee can call an emergency meeting to reimpose the mandate before the Dec. 23 end date if there’s a school outbreak or a significant increase in community transmission, Boston.com reported.
Amanda Fargiano, the committee’s vice chairman, said the members can respond quickly to any adverse events.
“I’d like to wrap everybody up in bubble wrap for the rest of their lives,” Fargiano said. “But I think in reality I can see a path forward that I couldn’t see as clearly before.”
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