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Coronavirus Impacts West Hartford Public School Events, CIAC Contests, Hartford St. Patrick’s Day Parade

West Hartford Public Schools Superintendent's Office. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

[Updated] West Hartford Public Schools will indefinitely postpone all events involving more than 100 people, the CIAC has canceled the remaining winter sports contest, and Hartford’s St. Patrick’s Day parade has also been canceled.

By Ronni Newton

On Tuesday morning, measures to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in Connecticut were extended, resulting in the cancellation and/or postponement of many upcoming activities for schools and throughout the community.

West Hartford Public Schools, along with the Town of West Hartford, will postpone all events that involve more than 100 participants, Superintendent Tom Moore said Tuesday. That includes performances of Conard’s “The Drowsy Chaperone,” Hall’s Pops ‘n Jazz, Artbeat, and spring concerts and musicals at all district schools.

As of now this should be considered a postponement, but Moore said no future dates are set at this point.

Organizers of the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools annual fundraiser West Hartford’s Cookin’ also announced Tuesday that the event will be postponed with additional information forthcoming, and the City of Hartford has canceled Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Tuesday afternoon, organizers of the Johnny’s Jog for Charity 5K announced postponement of the event that was scheduled for March 29 based on the town’s advisory, issuing the following message on their Facebook page: “We are working closely with the Town of West Hartford, so please stay tuned for the new event date and details. Johnny’s Jog for Charity has always been a successful charity event that brings the community together for a fun and festive day. You can expect the same for our 10th annual event as we secure a new date. Thank you for your understanding.”

“For each performance that was scheduled, be it Hall’s Pops and Jazz, Conard’s musical, Artbeat, Spring concerts, we will be discussing with our faculty and staff who oversee them the best way to move forward,” Moore said in a letter Tuesday to the school community. “This could mean postponements with the hope that in a couple of months we are in a better place, or live streaming events without an audience, or working with our partners at [WHCi] to broadcast events live and online.”

The CIAC also announced Tuesday morning that all remaining winter sports competitions – including boys and girls basketball, hockey, and the swimming championships – will be canceled in order to place the health and safety of student-athletes first. Both Conard and Hall won playoff games Monday night, and have teams and athletes impacted by these decisions.

West Hartford athletic director Jason Siegal said he spoke with principals at both Conard and Hall as well as athletes from the Conard boys basketball team, the Hall-Southington boys hockey team, and swimmers from both schools to explain the decision.

“I’m sad and my heart goes out to these kids,” Siegal told We-Ha.com. “As a former competitor myself, I know how they feel, but student safety has to be first and foremost. I wish it could be different for the kids.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, spring sports were not impacted by the CIAC decision, Siegal said. Pitchers and catchers are due to report for pre-season baseball practice this Saturday, and other teams are slated to begin practice “as originally planned” on March 21.

Following the CIAC decision, a change.org petition was launched requesting that winter tournaments be allowed to continue with a restricted audience. As of late Tuesday evening, more than 76,000 people had signed.

While the decisions are disappointing, officials believe it is important to follow the recommendations of the state’s Department of Education and Department of Public Health to not host any public events where more than 100 people will be present in order to minimize the risk to public health and the entire community – which includes parents, grandparents, and people with compromised immune systems.

As of Tuesday morning, there are four cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut, two involving state residents and two others involving New York residents who work at Connecticut hospitals. Fifty-two of the 56 tests administered as of Monday evening had come back negative, officials said.

“It is easy to tell people to wash their hands, and to engage in efforts to raise awareness and preparation when things seem more hypothetical. Now, however, we get to the point where we are forced into decisions that are so difficult because they impact the lives of our children, our families, and our communities in negative ways,” Moore’s letter states. “I became a teacher because I so loved working with teenagers, and seeing them become their best selves, and be celebrated not just in the classroom, but on our stages, in our gyms and fields, and at academic competitions.”

Moore said that he expects some residents to be angry about the decisions, and also expects some communities to defy the advice of the DPH.

“I am not a doctor, and for me to dismiss the recommendations of epidemiologists and the state Department of Public Health would be the height of hubris,” he said. “I also have a good friend who is a superintendent in Washington state, in an area that is currently being hit very hard by this, and we are trying to learn from places that are already making some even more difficult decisions.”

Tuesday’s decisions followed a statewide conference call Monday evening with the governor, state commissioners, and municipal and education leaders from throughout the state.

Although West Hartford does not have any confirmed cases of coronavirus, efforts statewide are moving from containment to mitigation. “There are no walls between states,” Mayor Shari Cantor said Monday evening following the call.

In addition to events, West Hartford Public Schools has also canceled all field trips. “We can control the environment in our schools, our cleaning practices, and the availability of soap and towels in our bathrooms, but I cannot guarantee that at other venues,” Moore said.

On Monday, the state announced cancellation of many events as well, banned out-of-state non-essential travel, and the State Capitol will be closed for four days for intensive cleaning.

Many colleges and universities have also enacted strict measures to control the spread of COVID-19.

In a message to the entire community, the University of Connecticut issued the following statement late Tuesday morning  “The COVID-19 pandemic will come to the state of Connecticut and it will likely directly impact UConn. In that case, we are prepared for the possibility of moving classes to an online-only format and having students return home when possible. This has already occurred at some universities in the country. It is strongly recommended that students bring along all necessary academic materials (textbooks, laptop, notes, etc.) during the Spring Break period in case the decision is made to not return to in-class instruction. Should the university determine that instruction will be offered online, students may not have the ability to return to the residence halls.” Spring break begins this weekend.

While Moore said the good news is that COVID-19 seems to have the least harmful impact on kids, there are many members of the school community who have compromised immune system. Children can also be carriers and can pass the disease along to older relatives for whom it is most likely to be deadly.

“Please continue to wash your hands, and to stress the importance of hand washing with your families. At parent conferences when you meet with your child’s teacher, don’t think that they are rude when they waive hello instead of shaking hands. We are just trying to engage in and teach safe practices,” Moore said.

“It is my great hope that in June, everyone thinks we made mistakes in being cautious. I hope that West Hartford never has a case of this. Decisions that we are making now, with the advice of health professionals, are being done to keep our kids and families safe. I do not enjoy anything about this, and hope that you understand our intentions,” said Moore.

For up-to-date information, visit specific pages dedicated to the coronavirus on the town’s website as well as the West Hartford Public Schools website.

Check back with We-Ha.com for updates as well.

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