In response to an earlier story at WCAT about the wearing of masks in schools, we reached out to Westford Board of Health for clarification on that Q & A from January 6.
The Westford Board of Health is responsible for many issues including disease prevention and control, septic and well regulations, maintaining standards for sanitation in housing and food service and many other factors that promote a healthy community. The board has worked hard to ensure that the Town of Westford meets or exceeds the standards set by the state to keep our residents safe. These past several years have been challenging for everyone as the town, state, country and world have been thrust into a pandemic with the emergence of the COVID-19 virus. It has been a challenging time for everyone as people around the globe have sought to understand and find ways to prevent, treat and live with this new virus. The Westford Board of Health members have diligently stayed abreast of the ever changing best practices in the fight against COVID-19. This includes remaining current with literature and scientific studies, recommendations from leading health agencies, and participating in regular meetings with the state epidemiologists and other health experts.
Current data supports the fact that vaccines are the most effective way to protect oneself and others against COVID-19. While Omicron is far more transmissible, even among vaccinated individuals, vaccination is still the best way to prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death. Vaccination has been shown to be beneficial at preventing severe disease and complications from COVID-19 even in those who previously had cases of the disease. Children, while usually low risk, have had severe outcomes: Vaccination and mask-wearing in public are the top recommendations for protecting them. Boosters are now widely available and have been shown to increase immunity and response against COVID-19. The current terminology is that those who have completed a COVID-19 vaccine cycle (1 dose of J&J or 2 doses of either Pfizer or Moderna) are “fully vaccinated” and those who have received their boosters are considered “up-to-date”. The consensus from reputable sources is that the best way to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated and boostered.
Community mask wearing has been demonstrated to substantially reduce the transmission of COVID-19: The more community members who adopt mask-wearing in public, the greater the benefit to individual community members. Research conducted in randomized control trials have shown masks pose no threat to the health and safety of children and adults. On their website, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) “strongly recommends that anyone over the age of 2, regardless of vaccination status, wear a well-fitting face mask when in public.” Studies, controlled for covariates, have found that in schools across the country, the rates of pediatric COVID-19 cases were significantly lower in schools with mask mandates.
We are moving to a model of personal responsibility and best practices for risk reduction. However, all preventive measures are most effective when more people engage in them. Mask wearing and vaccination are two beneficial strategies to prevent transmission of COVID-19 and both remain essential tools bringing us closer to ending the pandemic. Utilizing both means keeping children in school rather than having to resort to remote learning. These policies are not unlike other public health policies such as anti-smoking laws and seat belt laws, which while initially met with backlash, have overall shown significant benefit to health and human safety. The Town of Westford and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts continue to follow an evidence-based, public health approach to guidelines for keeping businesses and schools open amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic utilizing mitigation efforts that have been proven to be both effective and safe.
Westford Board of Health