CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts — Coronavirus cases in the United States are on the rise, forcing some school districts, especially in the Northeast, to resume mask requirements and recommendations for the first time since the winter spike ended due to of the omicron variant, and at a time when the nation is approaching one million deaths from the pandemic.
The return of masks in schools is not as widespread as it was in the early part of the pandemic, especially now that public concern about the virus has subsided. But districts in Maine, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have resumed wearing masks, and some districts in Massachusetts are also recommending them even with the school year just weeks away.
Maine’s largest school district, in Portland, this week announced the return of masks, with Superintendent Xavier Botana saying it was “the safest thing to do right now” amid rising infections. Schools in Bangor, Maine, also resumed the universal requirement for masks.
High schools in suburban Pittsburgh and in Montclair, New Jersey, have also announced the return of masks, though only for this week. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the majority of counties in the country considered to have “elevated” levels of COVID-19 are in the Northeast.
Officials are also recommending the use of masks in schools in parts of Massachusetts that have seen high levels of COVID-19 transmission.
Reactions have ranged from support to annoyance. On the Facebook page of Woodland Hills High School in suburban Pittsburgh, a woman called the change “absurd.”
Diana Martinez and Owen Cornwall, who have a daughter in the first grade at Graham and Parks School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have been complying with mask recommendations.
“We are very happy with this. It gives us a little peace of mind,” said Martinez, 43, a professor at Tufts University. “I think that parents generally tend to use them and that makes us feel calm. It’s the same at our preschool. There will be a couple of parents who won’t put masks on their kids, but we will.”
Daily reported cases in the United States average 79,000, up 50% from two weeks ago, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. This is a fraction of the number of daily cases registered a few months ago, when they exceeded 800,000.
The United States is approaching one million deaths from COVID-19. Worldwide, there have been more than 6 million deaths in the pandemic, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.