LITTLETON — Mask flexibility for fully vaccinated students at Littleton High School hit a snag at last week’s Board of Health meeting.
The Board of Health voted 5-0 to rescind a waiver that would have allowed for a three-week mask flexibility trial that would have run between Tuesday and Tuesday, Feb. 4. The board will re-evaluate at its meeting on Feb. 9.
Board of Health member Dan Kane brought forward the motion to rescind the waiver as a “housekeeping issue,” noting the School Department would be unable to make use of the waiver in its original time frame.
“That waiver regulation is no longer applicable and will not be utilized,” he said. “If that’s not going to be utilized, we want to clean that up.”
The School Committee did not vote to request another waiver.
Given the emergence of the omicron COVID-19 variant and a surge in positive cases across the state, Board of Health member Mike Zeldin referred to the current criteria for mask flexibility as “out of date” and urged the board to re-evaluate it.
“The data and everything else associated with it has been obliterated,” Zeldin said. “The situation on the ground is different.”
“The details of the past are instructive, they should not be determinative,” he said.
Superintendent of Schools Kelly Clenchy agreed with Zeldin’s assessment.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in three, four, five weeks,” Clenchy said. “The conditions we drafted may or may not be applicable at that time.”
Katrina Wilcox Halberg, an epidemiologist with the Boston Collaborative Drug Surveillance Program, noted Littleton reported 166 new cases of COVID-19 over the two-week period between Dec. 19 and Jan. 6. The town expected (and has since reported) 293 cases over the period of Dec. 26 to Jan. 8.
“That’s a significant and rapid increase,” she said.
Littleton Public Schools has seen a similar rise in cases. From Dec. 18 to Dec. 23, the school district reported 19 cases. That number more than doubled the next week, with 48 new cases between Dec. 24 and Dec. 31. That number nearly doubled again as the district reported 83 new cases between Jan. 1 and Jan. 7.
As of Wednesday, the school district had already reported 70 new cases for the period between Jan. 8 and Jan. 14. Of those cases, 19 were at the Shaker Lane School, 16 at the Russell Street School, 17 at the middle school and 18 at the high school.
Of those eligible, 85% of Littleton’s population is vaccinated against COVID-19, while another 10% are at least partially vaccinated. People are considered fully vaccinated for COVID-19 if they have received two doses of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine more than 14 days ago, according to the state Department of Public Health.
In response to the recent surge in COVID cases, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education also updated its response protocols.
Symptomatic students can now return to school once those symptoms have resolved and they have received a negative PCR or antigen test result. Previously, DESE would only accept a negative PCR test result.
Students who have either tested positive or chose not to receive a test can return to school after at least five days of isolation (returning on the sixth day) if their symptoms have improved and they have been without a fever for at least 24 hours without the aid of fever-reducing medication.
Students who are asymptomatic but identified as close contacts can either isolate or take part in DESE’s “Test and Stay” protocol. If they so choose, students can remain in school if they wear masks at all times when not eating or drinking and take a rapid antigen test on each day of school for five days after exposure and receive negative test results.
The Board of Health also voted 5-0 to extend the townwide mask mandate through Feb. 28, aligning their own mandate with that of DESE. The townwide mandate was set to expire Saturday.
School Committee Vice Chair Justin McCarthy questioned the townwide mandate’s alignment with DESE. He pleaded with the Board of Health to “keep an open mind” and “consider the data” as it is made available in regards to COVID-19 cases, severity and future mask mandates.
Board of Health Chair Kevin Baker said they would revisit the townwide mandate at the board’s Feb. 23 meeting.