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Springfield extends school mask mandate through March

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Springfield school officials have extended the mask requirement in the city's school until at least March 28. This comes after Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced a statewide school mask mandate for schools will end February 28.

Baker made clear that individual districts could decide to keep the mask requirement in place.

Helen Caulton-Harris, who is Springfield's commissioner of health and human services, said the school committee made the decision based on the recommendation of the board of health.

"One of the factors that went into the school decision to keep masks in place is the fact that in our 0 to 6-year-olds and our 11 to 20-year-olds, the cases remain stubbornly high," she said.

Caulton-Harris said she encourages Springfield residents to wear a face covering anytime they don't know the vaccination status of people they're with, especially with Super Bowl gatherings coming up on Sunday.

She noted that vaccination rates in the city are significantly lower than the state as a whole. In Springfield, 59% of residents are fully vaccinated, according to the data, compared to about 75% statewide.

Healey says there are 'complicated issues' at play

On a visit to Easthampton Friday, state Attorney General Maura Healey was asked about Baker's decision to end the school mask mandate. She did not take a firm position.

"We have some really good vaccination rates in many parts of the state. Unfortunately, there are still communities where we've got low vaccination rates, particularly when it comes to kids 5 to 12, and I think these are complicated issues," Healey said.

One of Healey's opponents in the upcoming Democratic primary for governor did take a stance on Baker's mask announcement.

State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz said it "does not reflect the reality of our situation." She noted the CDC guidance continues to call for masks in schools, as COVID-19 transmission rates are still labeled "high" across the state.

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Before joining New England Public Radio, Alden was a producer for the CBS NEWS program 60 Minutes. In that role, he covered topics ranging from art, music and medicine to business, education, and politics. Working with correspondent Morley Safer, he reported from locations across the United States as well as from India, Costa Rica, Italy, and Iraq.

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