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Fauci says Connecticut's in 'good place' as it confronts next phase of COVID-19

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious diseases expert who’s been the face of the U.S. scientific community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Monday that Connecticut is in “a good place” as it faces the prospect of reopening schools.

The “default position,” Fauci said, should be for states to try to resume in-person learning because of its benefits for children and their parents. That mode of education is best for the psychological well-being of children as well as the nutritional well-being of children who rely on school meal programs, he said. In-person learning also precludes the “downstream,” negative effects on parents who have to dramatically modify their work schedules when children stay home.

“The big ‘however,’” he said, is that the “primary consideration should always be the safety, health and welfare of the children, teachers ... parents and other family members.”

Fauci, invited to participate in Gov. Ned Lamont’s daily news briefing on the coronavirus, joined a video teleconference from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., where he is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He also is a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

If a state’s COVID-19 infection rate is sufficiently low, it should feel OK about bringing students back to school, Fauci said, adding that it’s ultimately up to parents to decide what’s best for their children.

“If infection is low, risk is low,” he said. “I urge you to use the advantageous position you’re in.”

Fauci said that while much still needs to be learned, studies indicate children who become infected with the disease have a much lower chance than adults of having a severe outcome or requiring hospitalization. Some research shows, he said, that children ages 10 to 19 can transmit the disease to adults as effectively as adults transmit it to adults. Children under 10 apparently don’t transmit it as well, he said.

School districts in Connecticut and all other states are grappling with whether to reopen schools to students, institute a hybrid approach involving in-person and virtual instruction, or proceed with a distance-learning plan.

Lamont unveiled a chart depicting metrics that will guide school superintendents as they decide which mode of learning to pursue based on the number of new COVID-19 cases reported. Counties averaging fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 population over a seven-day period would be designated “low risk,” favoring more in-person learning. A “moderate” designation in the 10-25 range of new cases would favor hybrid learning, while a “high” designation associated with more than 25 cases would favor remote learning.

Connecticut’s rate of new cases is 2, Lamont said, with county rates ranging from a low of 1.1 in Middlesex County to a high of 2.9 in Windham County, which he said experienced a recent jump in the number of cases. New London County’s rate is 1.8.

Florida, where COVID-19 has been surging, has a rate of new cases of 42, according to Lamont, who said Rhode Island’s rate has “popped up” to 10, putting it in danger of being added to the list of states on Connecticut’s travel advisory. People entering Connecticut from states on the list are required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Lamont reported that 252 new COVID-19 cases had been confirmed in the state since Friday, pushing the total past the 50,000 milestone to 50,062. Five new deaths had been associated with the disease, bringing the toll to 4,337. An additional 35,173 COVID-19 test results had been reported, with 0.7% of them coming back positive.

In New London County, 12 new confirmed cases were reported since Friday. Lawrence + Memorial Hospital reported it was treating two COVID-19 patients and Westerly Hospital one.

“Connecticut is in a good place,” Fauci said. “The numbers that the governor just showed are really indicative ... that you have the upper hand” in containing the coronavirus disease. He said he was impressed that despite the favorable numbers, “you’re not pulling back on your vigilance.”

“This is very serious situation that our country is facing,” he said. “You know you don’t need anybody to tell you that, you just need to look at the numbers ... we’ve gotten hit quite badly with regard to total number of cases — 4.6 million cases and 154,000 deaths ... Different parts of the country right now are in different states with regard to the prevalence and incidence of the virus.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, another member of the White House task force, has said the coronavirus pandemic has entered a “new phase,” which Fauci said was a reference to its surging through “inherent community spread.”

While outbreaks largely occurred in such settings as nursing homes, meatpacking plants and prisons in an earlier phase, the disease is now spreading among the population at large, including people “with no symptoms at all,” Fauci said. "Community spread in this phase is insidious. It (the disease) is much more difficult to get your arms around and contain.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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