Masks optional in most R.I. schools for first time since start of pandemic

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE)– Face masks are now optional for most school districts across Rhode Island for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

The statewide school mask mandate ended at 5 p.m. on Friday, meaning students and teachers could choose whether or not to mask up beginning Monday.

Governor Dan McKee made the announcement early February after consulting with the state’s top medical professionals. The Governor cited a downwards trend in statewide daily COVID cases of over 94% since mid January.

Schools that have made masks optional include East Providence, Pawtucket, Coventry, Warwick, and Barrington.

Students in Coventry like Andrew Lombardi and his mother told ABC 6 News they were ready to make this change.

“He’s so excited. He takes his mask down all the time in school, which its understandable for kids their age. So they’re super excited to go with no masks and I pray it keeps up like that,” Lombardi said.

One by one, students were greeted by teachers without masks, including Janet Greenwood, a 5th grade teacher at Washington Oak Elementary.

“I’m so excited to be able to see the students little faces and hear them clearly!” Greenwood said. “It’s been really difficult. The kids have tried their best; they’re so good, but we no longer have to say, ‘put it up on your nose’,” Greenwood said

Assistant Superintendent of Coventry schools, Don Cowart, said enforcement was the toughest part.

“I think they’re probably thrilled if I had to guess to not wear their mask. When I go to the school, the high school for example, we have 1,400+ kids. During passing time there’s lots of kids and their masks look all kinds of ways,” says Cowart.

Districts across Rhode Island are no longer responsible for policing in hallways or contact tracing. The decision now lies on individual families to choose what’s best for them.

“In the past we did a lot of contact tracing and notification. With the new guidance, that doesn’t sit on the school anymore. I think that’s significant as well because parents aren’t going to be receiving all the phone calls and emails as they did in the past,” continued Cowart.

Most districts will be following the CDC Community Risk Level map to determine COVID protocol levels. As of now R.I. is considered in the ‘low’ category.

In Providence, students will still need to mask up until further notice.

Massachusetts made this move last Monday as COVID-19 cases decline around the region.

Check back to ABC6 for the latest updates.

Categories: News, Rhode Island