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School Mask Mandate Extended to November

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BOSTON — The mask requirement in schools has been extended out another month. 
Public school children aged 5 and older and all staff will have to wear masks inside school buildings until at least Nov. 1, with certain exemptions.
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in August declared "exigent circumstances" and authorized the Commissioner Jeffrey Riley to institute universal masking based on a sudden rise in COVID-19 cases throughout the state near the end of July. 
The mandate was put in place until at least Oct. 1. On Monday, Riley determined to extend the mask requirement "after consulting with medical experts and state health officials." 
The mask mandate for vaccinated individuals will be lifted when 80 percent or more of all students and staff in a school are vaccinated.
This would not be able to be applied in elementary schools because children under the age of 12 cannot yet be vaccinated. 
Counties are now ranging between 63 and 104 percent of eligible individuals vaccinated, with Berkshire County about 73 percent. 
Vaccination of those 16-19 are varied throughout the state, Chelsea a high at 81 percent , according to Riley's presentation to the DESE Board of Education. There are also high rates of vaccination for that age group in Berkshire County as of Sept. 16, with low-rate outliers in the hilltowns and parts of South Berkshires.
In addition to masking, schools are also using social distancing of at least 3-feet and testing protocols, including the "test and stay" guidelines that can reduce quarantine times for those exposed to the novel coronavirus, to maintain in-person learning.
According to Riley, the test-and-stay protocol saved roughly 1,000 in-person school days last week, including 450 on Friday alone.
The mask guidance hasn't changed: It calls for mask breaks outside or when classroom windows can be opened, and when eating. Masks are also required on buses as part of the federal mandate requiring masks on public transportation.
Pfizer and BioNTech have been reporting good trial results in vaccine doses for children ages 5 to 11. These results have been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration. 
Currently, only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is fully approved by the FDA for use in individuals age 16 and older; other vaccines and use in those 12 to 16 is by FDA emergency authorization. Booster shots for the Pfizer vaccine were authorized last week for certain at-risk groups.
Massachusetts is one of the leading regions in vaccination rates at about 72 percent, not far behind Vermont and Puerto Rico.
The Baker administration has mandated vaccines for 42,000 state employees and health care workers but has declined to order one for educators despite support from the Massachusetts Teachers Association. Public colleges and universities, and many private ones, have instituted vaccine and masking mandates. 

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BCC Sees Increase in Enrollment Count

PITTSFIELD, Mass — Berkshire Community College (BCC) recently released its enrollment data for fall 2021 — a season still  impacted by COVID-19, but with a growing number of first-year and continuing students. 
 Key findings include: 
  • Overall enrollment is up 1.4 percent over 2020 
  • The first-year student population is up 16.4 percent 
  • Continuing students are up 3.9 percent 
  • Full-time equivalent (FTE) students are down 1.2 percent 
  • Readmitted students (those who leave college for less than a year and reapply) are down 27.27 percent
The number of non-degree-seeking students has also grown, largely due to BCC's Early College program, which offers up to 15 free college credits to high school juniors and seniors. BCC has increased the number eligible students for the program.  
"I'm thrilled that our new student and continuing student numbers are up. The BCC team has worked so hard to create an environment during the pandemic in which students could continue to thrive," said Adam Klepetar, BCC Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. "We continue to operate successfully in a very challenging enrollment environment, with decreases in the number of high school graduates and increases in competition." 
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