Lamont weighing mask rules for students

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

WINDSOR — Gov. Ned Lamont is still weighing a mask mandate for Connecticut students who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 for the upcoming school year.

Lamont said Tuesday he is watching developments in the state’s outbreak and awaiting updated federal guidance, but indicated he could make a decision within the next two weeks.

“I have not made that decision. I will tell you why. Look how much things have changed in the last two weeks,” he told reporters in Windsor. “Today, I’m told we spiked up again in terms of infections.”

State health officials later released a daily update that showed the state’s positive test rate had increased to 2.7%, the highest percentage since early May. There were 218 new cases of COVID-19 out of 8,055 test results received Monday.

There have been 1,651 new cases reported in Connecticut since the Fourth of July holiday, and the 54 hospitalized patients that were reported Tuesday represented a net increase of 18 since then and the highest number of hospitalizations since mid-June.

Lamont acknowledged school officials, teachers and parents are eager for state guidance on mask wearing as schools prepare to reopen to students in late August and early September, but he only offered a general time frame for making a decision.

“I think within a week or two depending on how fast things change. We are talking to everybody right now,” he said.

The governor on Monday issued a new executive order reauthorizing the state Office of Early Childhood and state Department of Education to set operational and safety rules for child care and school settings, including mandating the wearing of masks or other face coverings.

Local school officials have had to create mask-wearing contingency plans in their state-mandated back-to-school plans because there has been nothing definitive from the governor’s office.

Lamont said he continues to wait for updated guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on whether all or just some students should still be required to wear face masks. The CDC advised earlier this month that fully vaccinated students, teachers and staff do not need to wear masks in school. At this time, only students ages 12 and older are vaccine-eligible.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released new COVID-19 guidance Monday that recommends universal masking in schools for everyone over the age of 2 regardless of vaccination status.

Lamont said he will consider the medical group’s stricter advice in making his decision.

“We have got to absolutely take that to heart,” he said. “Obviously, CDC said if you haven’t been vaccinated, wear a mask. You know, whether that is a mandate or strong guidance we’ll figure out pretty soon, but you’re obviously safer wearing a mask.”

The executive order issued Monday also renewed an earlier emergency directive that generally requires anyone who is unvaccinated to wear a mask or face covering when they are unable to maintain 6 feet of physical distance from others.

The governor is unlikely to use his recently extended emergency powers to impose a statewide mandate requiring universal masking again at this time.

“I am reluctant to do that,” Lamont said. “I would have to see hospitalizations spiking up, and right now they’re not, and they’re not because people are vaccinated. We’re not because we have big parts of our state that really do have herd immunity, you know, 80% to 90% vaccinated, plus some people who were probably infected earlier. So, I’d be very reluctant to put forward a broad mandate like that.”

The populations of only 21 cities and towns out of the state’s 169 municipalities were less than 50% fully vaccinated through last week. The percentage of fully vaccinated residents ranged from nearly 33% in Mansfield to 92% in Canaan, according to the latest weekly statistics.

“We can stop this dead in its tracks if we can get 90%-plus of our people vaccinated,” Lamont said.

He said he also is not contemplating bringing back travel restrictions, capacity limits or other earlier emergency measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 based on the state’s infection, hospitalization and vaccination rates.

“I feel like we’re in a different situation, but I will watch it,” Lamont said, noting hospitalizations will continue to be his guiding metric.