COVID cases begin to pop up at HHS as second mask-optional trial begins

Masks hang on tree branches in the woods next to a path leading to the high school.

Discarded facemasks hang on tree branches in a path leading to the Hopkinton High parking lot. Since the start of the school year, students have been taking them off and hanging them on the branches as they leave the school building to the athletic fields. The number of masks left here has decreased since the mask-optional trials began, with many students leaving them at home altogether.

Currently, the high school is in the middle of its second mask-optional trial. The policy went into effect on December 6 and is scheduled to end on December 23, with winter break.

The first trial, introduced in November, made Hopkinton High the first school in the state to qualify for a mask optional policy due to its high vaccination rate.

“My goal with the first trial was to recommend something that was very cautious,” Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh said.

“Although there were three weeks in the trial period, students were in school for only 12 days, and only about half of the students took advantage of the permission to unmask. The School Committee had a contingency plan for re-masking, if necessary,” Cavanaugh said.

The consensus among Cavanaugh and other members of the school administration is that the first mask-optional trial went well.

“The first trial was seemingly a success,” Assistant Principal Laura Theis said. “I think people have been very respectful of everyone included, whether they’re wearing a mask or not.”

“When you look in the halls, you see a mix,” Theis said. “When you go into a classroom, there are still many masks being worn. So I think it’s a good way to try and make people feel comfortable with whatever works for them.”

Assistant Principal Laura Theis smiles while working at her desk in the school's main office.
Assistant Principal Laura Theis works at her desk during the school day. Theis’ mask is off her face and lies on her desk, an option some faculty members at HHS are exercising thanks to the current mask-optional trial. Theis and other members of the school administration have been closely monitoring the results of the trials.

Despite the overall success of the first trial, there have been several positive COVID tests reported at the school since the beginning of the school year.

Beginning with the first case on September 27, there had been at least seven reported cases at the high school.

Then on December 15, students and staff were informed through two separate emails that seven more people in the high school community tested positive.

“During the first trial [November 1-19], we had only one member of the HHS community test positive,” Cavanaugh said. “More recently, in this second phase of unmasking, we’ve had a few cases pop up.”

“These cases can be traced to outside-of-school contacts,” Cavanaugh said. “That said, we still have a plan in place to re-mask if we need to before December 23rd.”

As of now, the future of mask-wearing at the high school is still unclear.

“It’s hard to say where we will be with masking in January,” Cavanaugh said. “People do an awful lot of traveling and socializing over the December break.”

“We must note that there was a spike in January of ‘21, which, if repeated in ‘22, will likely preclude unmasking immediately after the December break.”

There were 6 cases reported by the school this past January during the hybrid model, more than all previous months in the 2020-2021 school year combined.

With the recent outbreak of confirmed positive tests, the trial will be discussed in the December 16 school committee meeting.

Despite the uncertainty, students are confident as ever in the school’s ability to continue going mask-optional while limiting transmission of the virus.

“COVID cases are inevitable,” junior Luke Scanlon said. “We’re the first school in the state to do this, so I think [the trials] are going well, and I think we’re going to continue going strong. It’s going to work out.”