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Mass. Governor Faces Pushback As State's Mask Guidance More Lenient Than CDC Recommendations

Empty classroom with chairs.
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Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker faces pushback as the state's recent mask advisory falls well short of guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Schools are one big area where the Baker administration did not go as far as the federal recommendations.  The CDC says everyone in K-12 schools — staff and students — should be masked, regardless of their vaccination status.

Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to talk about Baker's position on masks in schools.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: The new guidance from the administration, released last week, basically says that all students in kindergarten to sixth grade, including all unvaccinated staff,  should be wearing masks. These are students that are not eligible for the vaccine.

And then the governor says that students in seventh grade and up and vaccinated — these students that are age 12 and older — should be allowed to go maskless. Of course, if you are unvaccinated, masks are still recommended.

But this falls far short of what some people were hoping the governor would do. They believe, including some lawmakers like Rep. Mindy Domb, Sen. Rebecca Rausch, are pushing hard, saying that students should be protected and that includes wearing masks indoors when they return to school in the fall.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Communities can impose their own stricter mask rules in schools. Boston already did this. Teachers unions are pushing for it, so are those lawmakers, as you said, and the Boston Globe editorial board. Are you expecting a lot of pressure on local school committees — similar to last year, when they were deciding whether or not to open for in-person learning?

Yeah, this is exactly what Governor Baker seems to be saying, that not only does Massachusetts on a whole look a lot better than some other parts of the country when it comes to infection rates and hospitalization rates and such, but the conditions are very different from places around greater Boston, versus, say, western Mass., the more rural, less densely populated areas...So the governor is really wanting to leave decisions like that at the local level.

Those wishing the governor had done more [are] concerned about the pressure this will put on school committees and on local boards to make these decisions. They feel like it's much more easily done statewide by the governor and much more easily enforced, rather than leaving it to these local officials to try and make these difficult decisions.

The federal eviction moratorium has lapsed. Officials in Massachusetts say millions of dollars in rental assistance is still available, but advocates say getting applications finished and processed and approved has been tricky. What are you hearing from the Baker administration?

The administration says that they feel like some of the most dire warnings have been avoided through their efforts to put money into eviction diversion, money into legal resources for people who might need lawyers to fight off evictions or so-called notices to quit, which start this process of removing somebody from their home.

But you're right, some of the housing advocates say that a lot of these applications are being rejected, that the money simply isn't flowing fast enough, and that even with the assistance available, that the housing department, as well as the legal aid attorneys and all of the support systems are just overwhelmed.

So the governor is largely feeling that the state has a process in place here to deal with whatever will come from the expiration now of the federal CDC moratorium on evictions. But people in the field, on the ground feeling the more can be done and more should be done.

Lawmakers probably had a lot on their minds as they wrapped up business at the state house last week for their August break. They overrode some of the governor's vetoes. But what are some of the bigger issues that they kicked to the fall?

Yes, some of the things we know that the fall agenda has: one, sports betting. The Senate did not take this up before the break. That's something Senate President Karen Spilka has said that perhaps the Senate will take it up in the fall. That's something to look for.

We also know they have big issues with redistricting on their plate. This month, in August, the U.S. Census Bureau is releasing the ground-level data on population that would be needed to redraw the political districts from state House, Senate to the congressional map.

And then we have the big spending decisions on how to spend billions in [American Rescue Plan Act] money, as well as a surplus from fiscal '21, that could approach another billion dollars.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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