Governor Ned Lamont today announced that he is recommending the legislature leave the state’s mask mandate for schools in place until February 28, and after that point hand the decision off to local districts.
“I think we’re in a very different place than we were six months ago, certainly a very different place than we were a year ago,” Lamont said. “I think today with boosters, given vaccines, given the N95 masks, you are in a better position to keep yourself safe. Your child is in a better position to keep him or herself safe.”
Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Manisha Juthani spoke about the state’s recent experience with omicron. “We saw a rapid uptick, and now we are seeing a much more rapid downtick than what we’ve seen with any previous variant to date. Case counts are dropping, and the percent positively is dropping.”
Today the state reported a three-day average positivity rate of 4.77%.
“We need to put science at the center of our decision making,” said CEA President Kate Dias. “Allow us to use that as our anchor. Allow us to use it as the constant. We didn’t start putting masks on for no reason, we did it because it was determined medically by the CDC, the DPH, to be the right thing to do at that point in the pandemic. We can’t argue with the fact that there’s pandemic fatigue that we’re all experiencing and a desire for this to be over. However, we really do have to continue to follow the science.”
She continued, “What are the experts telling us to do? That’s been the anchor for us throughout the pandemic and we will continue to bang that drum—what is the science telling us to do? Are we at a space where positivity rates are low enough, vaccination rates are high enough, and hospitalizations are stable? I think those are the three things that really indicate what our position is and when those three things align, maybe there is a space to let up on masking. But what I fear for is, it feels an awful lot like we are making this decision in this moment due to social pressures, so I don’t want to lose sight of the focus really being on health, that includes mental health.”
Dias also said that CEA would release the results of a member survey on masking in schools Tuesday morning.
Juthani said that vaccinations remain the number one way to remain safe, but that different communities have different vaccination rates. “We’re putting this decision at the local level where boards of education can asses what works best for them.”
She added that some metrics used earlier in the pandemic don’t have the same meaning today, but that hospitalizations are a reliable number to follow. “With over 600 people in the hospital still, I’m concerned. I hope we continue to come down.”
DPH will be issuing guidance to local districts to help them navigate masking decisions, but will not be issuing concrete metrics as far as positivity or vaccination rates.
“One reason we prioritize decision making at the state level is that COVID doesn’t listen to district boundaries,” said Dias. “While it’s nice to think about COVID in districts, it doesn’t stay in districts. What we know is that our teachers and students come from other towns and go home to other towns so whatever we do in one community does impact others. So that’s why a move at the state level is very logical as we are moving as a community toward this end game.”
Lamont said he would consider reinstating a statewide mask mandate if another virulent, fast spreading variant were to reach the state. He hopes that waiting three weeks before moving to local control will allow the positivity rate to decrease further, ensure all schools have rapid tests available, and allow schools to come back from February break with masks still in place.
Lamont also said that moving to local control for mask mandates in schools is part of a larger off ramp from COVID mitigation measures. “We’ve got to figure out how we as a society and state learn to live with COVID.”
“One thing that we’re going to have to get used to is the idea of ramping up and ramping down the various tools and interventions that we have that can prevent the spread of disease,” Juthani said.
The governor’s current mask mandate for schools expires February 15. The legislature is expected to vote on the matter in the coming days.