Students sitting at desks wearing masks

Co-chairs of the Massachusetts Legislature's Public Health Committee are calling on Gov. Charlie Baker to put stricter COVID-19 mandates in place before school starts in the fall. 

Citing the "predominance of the aggressive Delta variant," the co-chairs of the Legislature's Public Health Committee are calling on Gov. Charlie Baker to announce "stronger mandates for masking, vaccination requirements and testing in K-12 schools."

In a joint opinion piece that ran in The Boston Globe on Tuesday morning, Rep. Marjorie Decker, of Cambridge, and Sen. Jo Comerford, of Amherst, assert that "unless the state implements preventive measures that follow science and not politics, schools will be ground zero in the fall, with approximately 456,000 unvaccinated kindergarten-through-sixth-grade students at particular risk."

On July 30, state public health officials began advising vaccinated people who live with any person at high risk for COVID-19, who have weakened immune systems themselves and who are at an increased risk of severe COVID-19 because of their age or health conditions to wear a mask or face covering when indoors and not in their own homes.

The shift came on the heels of a new federal recommendation that even vaccinated people mask up in areas of significant coronavirus transmission. Also, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on July 30 said it and the Department of Public Health "strongly recommend that all students in kindergarten through grade 6 wear masks when indoors, except students who cannot do so due to medical conditions or behavioral needs" and that schools allow vaccinated students to remain unmasked.

"Massachusetts is moving forward in this new normal and we're moving forward safely," Baker said July 30.

Baker also should mandate vaccinations, with limited exemptions, for teachers and staff in K-12 schools, the co-chairs said.

"The governor's current guidance relies too much on hope and the honor system for grades 7 through 12, both of which have already failed us nationally and are in large part why we are where we are today," Decker and Comerford wrote. "The governor should also provide more specific guidance on indoor and outdoor gatherings for the public at large."

Baker is vacationing this week with his family in California and is due to return to Massachusetts on Wednesday evening. The Legislature, which has many virus-related bills pending before it, is on a summer recess that is expected to run into September.