By Paul Hughes, Republican-American
HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday proposed to continue the state’s school mask mandate beyond Sept. 30 when his COVID-19 emergency orders are due to expire.
Lamont confirmed Tuesday he wants the full legislature to approve at least another 90-day extension of his emergency powers because of the ongoing threat to health and safety caused by the coronavirus.
He said the public health order requiring the wearing of masks or cloth face coverings inside school buildings is one of 10 emergency orders he wants to keep in place. He said he foresees a need to continue the school mask mandate for as many as six weeks.
“I just think it should continue a little bit longer. We’ve got not just delta, but mu,” Lamont said, referring to coronavirus variants now circulating in the state. “We’ve got flu season. The flu is coming up from the Southern states. I think we’ll know a lot more in six weeks.”
The governor spoke to reporters Tuesday morning at Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford before his chief of staff and general counsel briefed legislative leaders on the administration’s position on the next steps in the pandemic response and the emergency orders that should be retained.
“What I want is legislative input on the executive orders, and I’d like to know where they stand. I’d like to have their fingerprints on this decision,” he said. “When we work together, we’re a lot stronger.”
Democratic majority leaders have expressed support for extending the governor’s declarations of public health and civil preparedness emergency for a sixth time since March 2020, and Republican minority leaders have steadfastly opposed another extension.
The Democrat-controlled legislature has now voted twice to extend Lamont’s emergency authority since temporarily changing the public health and civil preparedness emergency statutes in May to require the full General Assembly’s approval of extensions through March 2022.
No GOP lawmakers supported the last extension in July. Four Democratic senators and nine Democratic representatives also voted against the renewals of the two emergency declarations that grant the governor sweeping powers to set rules and suspend or modify state laws, regulations and requirements.
“I’ve tried to use the executive powers very narrowly related to COVID and public health, and I think that has given them some confidence that we are not going to abuse this authority,” Lamont said.
He noted the temporary statutory changes enacted in May also authorize a select committee of the six top House and Senate leaders to reject any executive orders issued under the governor’s emergency powers within a 36-hour window.
Lamont said he believes the school mask mandate is necessary to continue because no COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for children younger than 12. Only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has emergency authorization to be administered to adolescents ages 12 to 17.
He also said he believes the requirement must be universal, rather than allowing school districts discretion to impose masking rules for some or all their schools.
“None of our kids under 12 are vaccinated. There is no difference school district by school district. I think that is why that it was important that we have a mandate to keep kids safe and keep kids in school,” Lamont said. “Look what is going on in Georgia. They’re quarantining. They’re not even playing football in Georgia.”
Dozens of school districts and charter networks in Georgia have had their school schedules disrupted because of COVID-19, according to news reports. High school football games have also been canceled, postponed or forfeited in Georgia due to COVID-19 concerns.
In Connecticut, there were close to 400 reported COVID-19 cases among elementary, middle and high schools students in the 2021-22 school year through Sept. 9, and nearly 100 cases among teachers and other school staff, according to the latest available numbers. Those numbers include private and public schools.
In contrast, there were 7,288 staff cases in the 2020-21 school year and 23,656 student cases, including 17,317 involving students who attended classes in-person part- or full-time.
Lamont continued Tuesday to rule out reimposing a statewide mask mandate. Towns and cities have discretion to impose local mandates under one of the governor’s emergency orders that also expires Sept. 30.
“I have got municipal officials who say mandate it for everybody so I don’t necessarily have to take the heat. I’ve got municipal officials who say if you mandate it, I will not enforce it, over my dead body,” he said. “I mandated it in school because the kids aren’t vaccinated. I didn’t mandate by town, because some towns have 90% of their people vaccinated, others at 60%.”
STATE HEALTH OFFICIALS REPORTED Tuesday there were 1,050 new cases of COVID-19 out of 24,923 test results received since Monday for a 4.21% daily positive test rate.
There have been 381,331 cases reported since March 2020, and more than 10.7 million molecular and antigen tests have been performed.
There was a net increase of 11 patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 to 338 statewide.
There have been 8,416 coronavirus-associated deaths, according to the most recent reported totals.
Seven more cases were reported in Naugatuck, three in Beacon Falls and 10 in Prospect since Monday’s report. There have been 3,924 cases in Naugatuck, 1,069 in Prospect and 638 in Beacon Falls since last March, according to health officials.
There have been 99 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck, six in Beacon Falls and five in Prospect, according to the most recent reported totals.
Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.