Boston public health emergency declaration to lift April 1, school mask mandate remains

The commission set a target marker at which it would recommend lifting the Boston schools mask mandate.

Boston University COVID-19 signs in May 2021. Chris Rycroft/Wikimedia Commons

As Boston’s COVID-19 markers continue to improve, the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) lifted the public health emergency declaration in the city at a meeting Wednesday.

It did not, however, recommend lifting the mask mandate for Boston Public Schools. Instead, it identified a COVID-19 marker for the city that, if reached, it would recommend lifting the school mask mandate.

Why BPHC rescinded the declaration

BPHC Executive Director Dr. Bisola Ojikutu began the meeting by sharing some encouraging COVID-19 statistics from the city of Boston. She said that not only was the positivity rate for COVID-19 under 5% for all racial and ethnic groups, but that all neighborhoods in the city were also under 5% positivity.


The city’s current overall positivity rate is 2.2%, she said.

Ojikutu then moved to have the public health emergency declaration for the city lifted. The declaration has been in place since March 15, 2020.

“In the early stages of the pandemic, the declaration was really instrumental in our ability to establish an incident command structure and our ability to deploy staff and resources to perform crisis response, as well as health care coordination functions,” she explained.

But now, she said, all the orders that were under the declaration have been rescinded, or are set to rescind April 1. Those orders include the citywide indoor mask mandate, the eviction moratorium, the declaration of a public health crisis related to unsheltered homelessness and substance use disorder, and the proof of vaccination mandate for public indoor gatherings.

Ojikutu also said that the commission had looked at its powers under the declaration and come to the conclusion that it could still take effective action against COVID-19 when it comes to things like increasing vaccination rates without the declaration.

Ojikutu made clear that the BPHC is still monitoring COVID-19 levels in the city, and is in the process of creating action plans should another variant surge occur. She said the commission will still be evaluating different COVID-19 metrics and could decide to reinstate the declaration in the future if necessary.

Why BPHC didn’t recommend lifting the school mask mandate

Dr. Sarimer Sanchez spoke at the meeting about the commission’s approach to the school mask mandate.


She began by acknowledging that Boston Public Schools (BPS) has seen a downtrend in COVID-19 cases in the last month or so. She said they had only 81 cases reported in the school community in the last week.

Sanchez later recognized that BPS also didn’t experience an uptick in cases after February break, as many had feared would happen when families returned from travelling.

Sanchez then explained that the two main goals of the BPHC when it comes to COVID-19 in schools is to prevent further COVID-19-related hospitalizations and to prevent COVID-19 clusters in schools.

Boston Area

Based on multiple studies, she said, the metric by which BPS should judge whether to rescind the mask mandate or not is the number of COVID-19 incidences in the city per 100,000 residents.

Sanchez said that if COVID-19 incidences in the city dip to 10 or fewer cases per 100,000 residents, the commission would recommend rescinding the school mask mandate.

Right now, she said, Boston’s COVID-19 incidence rate is 13 cases per 100,000 residents. So while the city isn’t far off, the commission wouldn’t recommend lifting the school mask mandate now.

“We are headed in that direction. Hope to be there soon, but we’re not there yet,” Sanchez said.

Once the city reaches the target threshold, Sanchez said she would communicate with the superintendent at BPS, and they would internally make the decision of whether or not to lift the mask mandate.


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