It’s the first day of school, and children at JW Martin Elementary are exiting cars and buses to enter the building without something they have worn over the past two years: masks.
They enter the school, give high fives to their teachers, and walk side by side with their peers—a familiar sight common before the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic still lingering and the worry of a potential spread of Monkeypox, North Attleborough Town Nurse Anne Marie-Fleming said parents of children in K-12 schools should not feel worried as cases are continuing to become less frequent among students.
“The board of health has been very involved with the schools and residents of North Attleborough since 2021 to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Marie-Fleming said. “Even with new potential variants, we are relaxing guidelines as we now have more tools, like vaccines, at our disposal to help keep kids and adults safe.”
Fleming said the school district is following the latest guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which states that schools do not need to require mask mandates as they did in early 2021.
The guidance letter, dated Aug. 15, cites the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments to support their decision on masking. Parents and students have the option to continue wearing a mask if they want.
“This upcoming school year, districts and schools should focus their COVID mitigation strategies towards vulnerable and symptomatic individuals,” the memo states. “Districts and schools are reminded that there is no longer any statewide masking mandate in schools (other than school health offices) and there is no testing requirement in schools.”
Marie-Fleming said she and the rest of the Board of Health have been working closely with Head School Nurse Anne Sandland to check on students who might be vulnerable to COVID-19, and have been handing out free test kits for families at Town Hall. She said that there are no plans to open any more vaccine clinics due to their accessibility at pharmacies. Nevertheless, Marie-Fleming said she encourages those who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine to do so.
“We support and encourage vaccinations,” she said. “It is a preventative mechanism that can prevent serious consequences.”
Marie-Fleming said that currently there is no known outbreak or risk of Monkeypox in North Attleborough, but acknowledged that if one does occur, the Board of Health and school district will be vigilant in notifying students and parents.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Marie-Fleming said there would be 40 known cases of the virus at a time on average. On Jan 10, 2021, a record 225 active cases of COVID-19 in North Attleborough were reported.
In August of this year, the cases have dropped significantly, with only 18 known active cases that were classified as infectious.
Marie-Fleming said she understands how some parents might be worried about their children but ultimately promised that she and her team will be at the ready in case of a serious spread.
“Masks are still optional,” she said. “We will also make recommendations and follow-ups with parents if needed.”