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Connecticut loosens school COVID restrictions as cases and hospitalizations soar

Classroom desks
Emory Maiden

Governor Ned Lamont said if Connecticut schools are experiencing outbreaks of COVID-19, they can shift to remote learning temporarily. New state health guidelines released Monday for schools returning from the holiday break also loosened COVID-19 restrictions, including around contact tracing for students who test positive.

The state Department of Public Health said schools can discontinue contact tracing based on individual exposures. Officials said schools shouldn’t put their focus on investigating in-school exposure, which they said is a relatively low risk. Instead, they should focus on identifying and isolating students and staff with COVID-19 symptoms.

In response, Lamont said Connecticut has received more than 1 million rapid and PCR COVID-19 tests in the last few days. He said tens of thousands will be going to schools this week as they begin their spring semester. He said every municipality in the state will have access to some test kits.

Lamont said increased testing will be provided for the most vulnerable populations. But he called for residents — including the “worried well” — to be sparing in using them until supply chain issues can be resolved.

“We can’t have everybody rush the gate for the tests at the same time. I just urge a little bit of common sense here. I can’t mandate common sense,” Lamont said.

Connecticut students who are exposed to COVID-19 are allowed to stay in school if they wear masks and aren’t showing any symptoms. A similar test to stay policy is supported by the CDC.

Still, several Connecticut schools stayed closed Monday. Superintendents in Westport and Stratford said their closures are due to the surge of COVID-19 cases among students and staff.

The state’s largest teachers union last week pressured Lamont and local leaders for a return to remote learning after the holiday break, given the surge in COVID-19 cases, including among children.

The Connecticut Education Association also said “inadequate” supplies of at-home tests creates “a perfect storm” for school outbreaks. Distribution of COVID-19 test kits only reached many Connecticut cities and towns over the weekend after shipping delays last week.

Lamont said on Thursday that he would leave that decision up to school districts instead of a statewide mandate.

“We want everybody back in school. We know that there's no compromise with in-person learning,” Lamont said. “We found out a year and a half ago we can do it safely. I believe even now in this Omicron day we'll be able to do that safely as well.”

The Democratic governor also said the state is not planning a mask mandate, despite Monday’s COVID-19 infection rate hitting 21.5% — a new daily record. There have been 1,400 COVID hospitalizations in the state since Thursday.

Still, Lamont said Connecticut residents are overwhelmingly wearing masks indoors.

“I don’t want to put a lot of counter-pressures on rebellion and people fighting back against it. I encourage everybody: wear the mask when you’re indoors. I’m getting N95 masks available to anybody, no questions asked. I think we’re on the right track right now,” he said.

The Connecticut National Guard has distributed more than 1.5 million masks to municipalities statewide.

The city of Hartford announced Monday it’s putting a universal indoor mask mandate in place through the month of January. Stamford and Groton reinstated their mandate last month. And in Massachusetts, Republican Governor Charlie Baker ordered a mask mandate in all state buildings and offices.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.
A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.