BOSTON (WHDH) - Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley on Monday announced that the state’s mask mandate for public schools has been extended through the end of February as COVID-19 cases among students and staff continue to rise.

“The mask requirement remains an important measure to keep students, teachers and staff in school safely at this time,” DESE said in a news release.

Students ages 5 and older in all grades and staff are required to continue wearing masks indoors through Feb. 28, except when eating, drinking or during mask breaks.

DESE noted that school officials will continue to be able to lift the mask requirement if they can demonstrate that at least 80 percent of all students and staff in a school building are vaccinated.

The mandate was set to lapse on Jan. 15 but the decision to renew it comes amid an omicron-fueled spike in cases.

Last week, the state reported 38,887 positive cases among students and 12,213 cases among staff between Dec. 23 and Jan. 5, marking a total of 51,110 new cases, according to DESE.

The spike in cases was more than two-and-a-half times the number of new cases reported in the previous two-week span.

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