Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday that he is recommending an end to the mandate requiring masks in schools and childcare centers as of Feb. 28, 2022, and West Hartford is discussing plans regarding the mandate in schools, as well as the town’s universal indoor mask mandate.
By Ronni Newton
Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday that the state is now in a very different place with the COVID-19 pandemic, and he is recommending that the statewide mandate requiring masks be worn in schools and childcare end as of Feb. 28, 2022, with the authority to require masks becoming the responsibility of superintendents and boards of educations in consultation with health departments.
“Now here we are in early February … I think we are in a very different place than we were 6 months ago, than we were a year ago,” the governor said during a press briefing Monday afternoon. “We now have the tools to keep ourselves safe.”
There are three weeks until the mandate will expire, and West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore said the district will be discussing its options in consultation with the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District.
“I’ll be talking to the local Health District, and the Board of Education, and as we get close to the end of the month we will have answers,” Moore said Monday.
COVID-19 cases have been declining dramatically statewide, and in West Hartford Public Schools as of Monday there are just 20 active cases, down from more than 400 a month ago.
Along with declining cases, hospitalizations are dropping rapidly, with a decrease of 154 patients statewide over the weekend. As of Monday, 631 people who are hospitalized have tested positive for COVID-19, according to data reported by the state – less than half of the number who were hospitalized two weeks ago.
The vaccination rates among school-aged children in West Hartford are very high, among the highest in the state. For the 12- to 17-year-old age group, 98.49% have had at least one vaccine, 93.3% are considered fully vaccinated, and 38.31% have gotten a booster dose as of Feb. 2, when the most recent report was issued by the state Department of Public Health. Among children ages 5-11, who became eligible for vaccination more recently than older students, West Hartford data indicates that 64.02% have had their first shot, and 56.45% are fully vaccinated as of Feb. 2.
“Vaccinations are the number one way for people to stay safe,” said Dr. Manisha Juthani, commissioner of the Department of Public Health, and rates of vaccination vary throughout the state.
“Now schools will have that opportunity to decide for themselves what works best for their community at the local level,” she said.
While there is not specific data regarding spread of COVID in the state’s schools, anecdotally it appears to be very low. The spread also depends on the level of disease in the community, as well as the vaccination rate.
“Think this is a good time to move past the one size fits all,” Connecticut State Department of Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker said Monday. “This is the next step to the normalcy we are looking to get back to for our students.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that the state’s schools will be ending their school mask mandate as of March 7.
State officials will not be developing specific metrics, but will be providing guidance to communities to assist in making their decisions about whether or not masks should still be required in schools and childcare centers, and if the mandates are lifted, at what point a new spike may indicate need for reinstatement. Guidance will include revised information about quarantining those who have been exposed.
Lamont said he is much less concerned with the number of positive cases of the omicron variant than he would have been with delta, but no one knows for sure what variants may arise in the future. “If ‘zombie-cron’ comes along and spikes up as fast as omicron,” Lamont said, he may reconsider in consultation with the legislature which will be in session.
“What we have got to figure out is how we as a society, we as a state learn to live with it,” Lamont said.
West Hartford is one of the few towns in the state that still has a universal mask mandate in place in indoor public spaces. Bloomfield still has a mandate, but Hartford lifted theirs last week.
“We’re reaching a phase of the pandemic where it is not going to leave us, and people will need to take personal responsibility,” Mayor Shari Cantor said Monday. The trajectory has become a much more important factor than the positivity rate, and those numbers are moving in the right direction, she said.
“We are meeting with the executive policy group tomorrow or Wednesday to discuss lifting the indoor mask mandate,” Acting Town Manager Rick Ledwith said Monday. He said there will be at least a few days notice before any changes take effect.
Universal mask mandates for public and private transportation, which are subject to federal rules, will remain in place, as will requirements in nursing homes, healthcare facilities, homeless shelters and other facilities housing vulnerable populations, and correctional facilities.
The state legislature will return for session on Wednesday, and will hold a hearing Tuesday regarding continuing the governor’s emergency declarations and 11 of the executive orders. Information regarding legislative leaders’ reactions to Monday’s announcement can be found here on CTNewsJunkie.com.
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