NATICK — After a sharp uptick in COVID-19 cases, Natick Public Schools is strongly encouraging mask wearing until the surge subsides, Superintendent of Schools Anna Nolin told the town’s Board of Health.
If the trend continues, she said during the health board’s meeting on Wednesday, the district may reinstitute a mask mandate for group events such as band concerts and plays.
According to town data, Natick has outpaced Massachusetts over the past two weeks in average daily new cases per 100,000 people with a rate of 40.7, compared to the state’s 32.5 average.
Previously: Natick will drop its school mask mandate, move to flex masking model
“COVID is not going to be eradicated,” Director of Public Health Michael Boudreau said at the meeting. “I think it’s going to be here; we’re still going to see mutations, but it’s not like getting rid of smallpox or polio.”
What are the numbers?
Between May 5-11, cases among students had roughly doubled from the week prior at Natick High School, Wilson Middle School, Kennedy Middle School and Memorial Elementary School, according to data Nolin presented to the board. Brown Elementary School’s cases jumped from five to 15, and Ben-Hem Elementary School also saw an uptick.
Related: Natick High’s dean of students will serve as interim principal for 2022-23
Cases typically see a rebound effect following school vacations, which could contribute to the higher numbers, Nolin said.
“But more so I think there’s a fatigue with the isolation and people are fully committing back to social events, and eating out, and bigger group events,” she said.
Natick’s uptick is consistent with that of nearby school districts. Framingham, for example, reported 195 cases from May 5-11, more than three times the 62 cases it counted in the week prior to spring vacation.
“At this time, we are not projecting any changes to the current practice in Framingham for the remainder of this year or next year,” Superintendent of Schools Robert Tremblay said in a statement. “We will, of course, continue to monitor cases in Framingham together with the City’s Department of Public Health and if changes are needed they will be communicated to our entire school community.”
Related: Katherine Clark marks $1.8M in funding for Framingham in education, health care
Similarly, Milford Superintendent of Schools Kevin McIntyre said his district is not considering a change in its masking policy, despite an increase in cases.
“We are seeing an uptick in cases,” he said in a statement. “At this point we are not considering mandating mask wearing, but any student, staff member or visitor is welcome and supported if they choose to wear a mask.”
In Natick, Nolin told the Board of Health she would send a message to families strongly encouraging a return to masking until the surge subsides.
When it dropped its mask mandate, the school district adopted a “flex mask” culture that allows students and teachers to make personal decisions about mask wearing. The protocol also leaves room for the district to return to masking as transmission rates change.
Related: Natick hires veteran FBI agent to audit school security. Here’s what it means
Additionally, the schools have been working to educate students about personal responsibility around monitoring symptoms, quarantining and wearing masks as needed after a bout with COVID-19, Nolin explained.
“Our nurses are full throttle coaching on what personal responsibility means now,” she said. “I think that’s the transition that we’re in now, is that there’s a level of personal responsibility that people are a little shaky on.”
Likewise, Boudreau said his department is focusing on public education, encouraging people to get a booster vaccine if they are eligible and to stay home if symptomatic. The Health Department is exploring possible booster clinics, and Boudreau said he is working on new messaging and posters to inform the public about isolating and quarantining.
Related: Do you need a second COVID-19 booster? What to know about demand in MetroWest, Milford
In coming days, one decision the school district may face is whether to require masks at group events such as concerts or plays.
“I just want the community to understand that at some point, if the numbers continue to trend in this direction, we would reinstitute masking for those group events like band concerts and plays and those types of things, because that’s just a smart move if the rates continue to go this way,” Nolin said.
Daily News reporter Zane Razzaq contributed to this report.
Abby Patkin is a multimedia journalist for the Daily News. Follow Abby on Twitter @AMPatkin. She can be reached at email@example.com.