BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts officials on Friday urged more schools to return to full, in-person instruction, saying that only communities with the highest COVID-19 rates should be using any form of remote learning.

Under previous guidance, schools were told to shift between remote learning, in-person learning or a mix of the two depending on their area's infection rate. Areas with moderate spread were advised to use remote or hybrid learning, while only those with the lowest rates were encouraged to bring students back full-time.

But speaking at a news conference, Gov. Charlie Baker said there’s growing evidence that schools are not a significant source of spread and that keeping students at home hurts their learning and mental health.

“We continue to see too many communities with children learning in remote-only models,” he said. “We all know that losing a week, a month, a quarter or more in the life of a kid’s education has real consequences.”

He cited state data showing that out of 450,000 public school students attending some form of in-person learning, there have been only 252 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Under new guidance outlined by education officials, schools in areas of low and moderate risk will be expected to teach fully in-person, and even communities with high rates are told to consider a hybrid model rather than going fully remote.

Joining Baker was Jeffrey Riley, the state's education commissioner, who said “the time to get kids back to school is now.”

“It has become increasingly clear that this virus is going to be with us for a while,” Riley said. “We need to continue to work hard to get as many students back to learning in school buildings as possible.”

The state also announced changes to the way it assigns color-coded risk levels to cities. Meant to guide schools and businesses through the state’s phased reopening plan, the colors were previously based on an area’s average virus rate. Now, the levels will take other factors, including the city's population, into account.

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