by: Melanie DaSilva
Posted: / Updated:
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Islanders could learn Wednesday how much longer students and teachers will be wearing masks in schools.
Gov. Dan McKee has scheduled a 1:30 p.m. briefing and will be joined by R.I. Department of Health Interim Director Dr. Jim McDonald, Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green and other state leaders.
12 News plans to stream the briefing live right here on WPRI.com.
McKee is reviewing the state’s mask mandate as other states, including Connecticut, have set a date to end theirs and Rhode Island’s COVID-19 data continues to improve.
Data released by the state on Tuesday shows positive cases have significantly dropped since the omicron peak last month and hospitalizations are the lowest they’ve been since Dec. 10. The state’s weekly positivity rate also fell from 12.2% on Jan. 31 to 8.4% on Feb. 7.
Last week, the state’s executive order requiring masks in schools was extended until at least Feb. 14, and can only continue if the full General Assembly allows McKee to keep it in place with a vote expected Thursday.
Parents, students, and educators shared mixed opinions when it comes to wearing masks in schools during Tuesday night’s Council on Elementary and Secondary Education meeting.
“Let those who wish to be masked stay masked and let those who wish to breathe air freely to do so,” Chris Schuler said.
“I think masking is still required. My son, although he is in first grade, says he wishes he could see people’s faces, he feels safe with his mask on, because he believes it protects him and others from the spread of COVID,” Kelly Melendez added.
Bob Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, told 12 News the teachers union will follow the state’s lead on the issue.
“If the governor’s emergency powers weren’t extended, then we are back to all the districts working under their approved plans, which requires masking,” Walsh said.
Districts could change their reopening plans to eliminate masks but would require local approval, Walsh added.
The South Kingstown School Committee voted Tuesday night to make masking optional in schools if McKee decides not to extend the mandate further.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is also expected to make an announcement regarding masks Wednesday morning.