- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 20, 2021

BOSTON (AP) - This year’s 11th graders won’t be required to take the MCAS test to graduate as the state continues to slowly emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education board voted Tuesday to modify graduation requirements so members of the Class of 2022 won’t be required to take the MCAS test to graduate due to the turmoil created by the pandemic.

It marks the first time since 2003 that an entire high school class has been exempted from having to pass the exam in order to graduate.

The change had been recommended last month by Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley.

Thousands of students across the state have begun returning to in-classroom education after the pandemic forced many schools to adapt to remote teaching.



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MASK MANDATE

Medical experts in New England acknowledge it soon might be safe enough for states to lift mask requirements when outdoors.

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, Rhode Island, tweeted Sunday that wearing masks indoors should still be required, but said outdoor infections are rare and mostly tend to happen when large groups gather in confined spaces for long periods of time, The Boston Globe reports.

“I think it’s pretty safe to be out and about walking around without a mask, especially in large parts of the country where infection numbers are under reasonable control,” he said on CNN.

Dr. Paul Sax, clinical director of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, also agreed Monday that it might be time to lift the mandates, especially in places were people can safely distance.

“Transmissions do not take place between solitary individuals going for a walk, transiently passing each other on the street, a hiking trail, or a jogging track,” he said in a blog post on the New England Journal of Medicine website. “That biker who whizzes by without a mask poses no danger to us, at least from a respiratory virus perspective.”

Sax similarly stressed that indoor mask regulations should persist, at least until more people are vaccinated.

A conservative group on Tuesday called on Massachusetts’ governor to lift the state’s outdoor mask-wearing mandate.

The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, in a statement directed to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, argued that most of the state’s most vulnerable residents have been inoculated against COVID-19, and anyone who is 16 or older who lives, works or studies in the state is now eligible to receive a vaccine as of Monday.

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VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS

The number of new daily cases of COVID-19 increased by fewer than 1,000 Tuesday while the number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts rose by three.

The new numbers pushed the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 17,138 since the start of the pandemic, while its confirmed caseload rose to about 633,000.

The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.

There were about 700 people reported hospitalized Tuesday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with about 170 in intensive care units.

The average age of those hospitalized was 59. There were an estimated 33,000 people with current active cases of COVID-19 in the state.

More than 5.2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Massachusetts, including more than 3.1 million first doses and about 1.9 million second doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

More than 2 million people have been fully immunized.

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SIGNATURE GATHERING

Candidates competing for Boston mayor and seats on the Boston City Council called on Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin and Beacon Hill lawmakers Tuesday to temporarily change the laws governing ballot access in Massachusetts.

Supporters said candidates for local and municipal office in 2021 should not have to be required to collect large numbers of in-person signatures, given the ongoing pandemic.

“Although we are candidates for different offices - and, in some instances, are competing against one another - we are joined by the common desire to participate safely in the democratic process,” the candidates wrote in a letter to Galvin and the House and Senate chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Election Laws.

The candidates pointed to a ruling last year by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which found that asking candidates to engage with large numbers of individuals at close quarters to collect signatures posed a public health risk in the early months of the pandemic.

The court ruled that the number of signatures needed to secure a spot on that year’s September primary ballot be reduced by half. The court also allowed candidates to collect signatures electronically, but did not extend the changes to the current election cycle.

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