Baker says most kids can return to in-person learning

Says data indicate only 33 towns should do remote-only education

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER said a key COVID-19 metric currently indicates children in nearly 91 percent of the state’s cities and towns can safely return to school this fall for in-person learning either on a full or part-time basis.

Baker said only 33 of the state’s 351 cities and towns have had four or more cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people over the last two weeks. On a map, the Baker administration labeled those municipalities red and yellow, which means they are at high and moderate risk and deserving of increased state support in bringing down the number of infections.

The rest of the state’s communities are divided into green (less than four cases per 100,000 people over the last two weeks) and white (less than five cases overall over the last two weeks). Baker said the level of infection in those communities is so low that students can safely return to school this fall either full-time or using a hybrid model that varies between in-person and remote learning.

“If you’re in a green or a white community, I can’t imagine a good reason not to go back, whether it’s full time or some sort of a hybrid,” Baker said at a State House press conference. “For all intents and purposes, you meet all the benchmarks that are being used across the country and across New England about whether it’s safe to go back to school.”

According to published reports, a number of communities have decided to adopt full remote learning despite their low number of infection. The list includes Cambridge, Somerville, Medford, Weymouth, Leominster, Wayland, and Swampscott. Schools in Malden, Lynn, Revere, Chelsea, and Springfield have also opted for remote learning, which the new community-specific data suggests is the appropriate approach.

The Baker administration has been relying on the positive test rate (positive cases as a percent of tests done) as its key COVID-19 metric for the last couple months. But Baker and top aides said on Tuesday that the positive test rate is becoming less important as the state does more testing for all sorts of reasons and not just because someone is symptomatic. He said the positive test rate is also somewhat misleading because a rate of 1.9 percent statewide reveals little about the differences between individual communities.

The new benchmark, using cases per 100,000 residents, enables more community-specific comparisons and allows the state to focus attention on those communities in need of help.

The focus on community-specific data comes as communities are finalizing their back-to-school plans. While Baker has urged schools to return to in-person learning, the state’s teachers’ unions are supporting all-remote learning plans. While districts have until Friday to announce their plans, most appear to be starting the year either in-person or with some kind of hybrid system that combines in-person and remote learning.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Practically, officials in several school districts say state guidelines requiring physical distancing in classrooms and on buses can make it impossible for districts to return all students to class full-time since they do not have enough classroom spaces or buses.

A new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics found a 90 percent increase in COVID-19 cases in children over the last four weeks, from 200,000 cases nationwide July 9 to 380,000 cases Aug. 6. But children still represent just 9 percent of all cases nationally, and less than half a percent of deaths. There are 501 child cases per 100,000 children in the population. And the definition of a child varies between states, so some of those children may be as old as 20, or under Alabama’s definition, 24.