WORCESTER, Mass. - The school year will be very different this year for former North High teacher Melissa Verdier.

"I think the first day of school might be a bit tough for me," Verdier said. "It's going to be the first time in 20 years that I'm not in front of students."

The new president of the Educational Association of Worcester started July 1 and she has a lot on her plate.

What You Need To Know

  • The Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity is urging Governor Baker, DESE and local schools to implement a more comprehensive public health plan this fall and winter

  • New EAW President Melissa Verdier said how educators take precautions is a personal choice, and she understands if some opt for masks

  • The state is no longer recommending universal mask requirements or surveillance testing of asymptomatic individuals

COVID-19 concerns in the classroom still remain with classes beginning next week.

"We have more cases in the last week than the prior two years at the same time," said Jonathan Levy, Chair of the Department of Environmental Health at Boston University. "Obviously, a lot of under-reporting right now. More hospitalizations and higher waste water levels."

Levy spoke at a press conference Monday for the Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity, urging Governor Charlie Baker, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and local schools to implement a more comprehensive public health plan this fall and winter. 

The state is no longer recommending universal mask requirements, surveillance testing of asymptomatic individuals, contact tracing or test-to-stay testing in schools.  

The coalition listed several demands, including the return of mask mandates and surveillance testing at the start of surges.

"By our estimates, we estimate the lifting of universal masking requirements were associated with an additional approximately 45 cases per 1,000 students and staff over the 15 weeks following the lifting of the statewide mandate," said Harvard University's Tori Cowger.

Verdier said she hasn't heard a lot of concern from local educators about the virus.

Like many districts, Worcester lifted their mask mandate last year. Verdier says how someone takes precautions when school starts is a personal choice.

"What's comfortable for the educator, in my opinion, is really what works," Verdier said. "So, if somebody wants top wear a mask, by all means wear a mask. I understand that."