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    Sunday, December 03, 2023

    Howard asks state to reduce COVID-19 quarantine period for students

    Stonington — Republican state Rep. Greg Howard has asked the state to modify the current 10-day COVID-19 quarantine rule so students don't miss as much class.

    On Thursday, the freshman legislator, who represents Stonington and North Stonington, sent a letter to Department of Public Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani and Department of Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker outlining his request to minimize student absences. He asked that both agencies work together to provide guidance to schools that limits the quarantining of students, where feasible.

    "Each day in my district, children are being prohibited from attending school with their peers due to quarantine protocols. Not only is this very detrimental to our children's education, it also puts a significant burden on working families that must find arrangements for their young children staying unexpectedly home for an extended period. The extra burden on our school staff and the emotional toll, specifically on our nurses who are constantly sending kids out in tears who just want to be in school, can

    no longer be ignored," Howard wrote.

    The current policy calls for a student who is not fully vaccinated, and has not tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days, to remain home in quarantine for 10 days after the last exposure to someone with COVID-19 or 7 days with a documented negative test result at day 5 or later. Students ages 5-11 are not eligible for a vaccine, while not all students ages 12 to 18 have received shots.

    In his letter, Howard said that of the 375 students in the two towns who have been quarantined, just one has tested positive for COVID-19. He said this has led to more than 1,900 days of lost instruction. According to state data, there were a total of 34 new cases in Stonington and North Stonington during a two-week period ending Oct. 9.

    Howard is asking state officials to instead implement the "Test and Stay Policy" for asymptomatic students in place in Massachusetts, which permits school districts to participate in either rapid testing, pooled testing, test and stay (in school). He said that program has saved almost 18,000 in-person school days for students. Pooled testing involves testing several samples with a single test. According to the FDA, pooled testing, in which there is greater likelihood of false negative results, works best when there is a low prevalence of cases in an area.

    He said 2,200 private and public schools in Massachusetts are participating in either rapid testing, pooled testing, test and stay, or a combination of all three. He said pooled testing data shows that positivity rates — 0.84% as of Oct. 3 — are low and examples of in-school transmission are rare.

    Howard pointed out that both Connecticut and Massachusetts are among the states with the highest vaccination rates and, on a per-capita basis, have some of the lowest total cases in the nation, with Connecticut cases being lower than Massachusetts.

    "While I recognize that Connecticut DPH and local health officials are reliant on (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations, it is also important to recognize that CDC provides guidance for an entire nation, and the circumstances in Connecticut are very good in comparison to other states as Connecticut residents have taken the pandemic seriously and worked diligently to mitigate the spread of the virus," he wrote.

    "I have several frustrated parents in my district who cannot seem to reconcile how a state that mandates they receive a letter of warning about the importance of school attendance when they plan a family vacation is failing to properly consider overwhelming data that would promote more in-person instruction," Howard wrote. "Frankly, I understand the frustration and recognize the inconsistency in policy."

    At Thursday night's Stonington Board of Education meeting, Superintendent of Schools Van Riley said he fully supported Howard's letter, saying "We want our kids back in school." He said Stonington would be willing to be a pilot program for the proposed changes.

    According to Gov. Ned Lamont's daily coronavirus update, there were 240 new cases reported statewide since Wednesday, with 245 people hospitalized, 32 of whom are in New London County. As of Thursday, there has been 8,667 COVID-related deaths in the state, an increase of 38 over the past week.


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