In participating Connecticut schools, unvaccinated close contacts of COVID-positive people won't have to quarantine
Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday announced that Connecticut schools can choose to participate in a "Screen and Stay" initiative, meaning students and staff who aren't fully vaccinated won't have to quarantine if they're a close contact of someone who tests positive for COVID-19.
This is provided they were wearing masks, don't have symptoms and the contact happened during the school day. The initiative goes into effect immediately.
The guidance has been that fully vaccinated close contacts can remain in school if they're asymptomatic, whereas those who aren't fully vaccinated must quarantine for 10 days, or seven days if they have a negative COVID-19 test from the fifth day or later. Lamont's announcement now allows for the same treatment of unvaccinated and vaccinated close contacts.
"I think Screen and Stay in school is one more signal of success in our battle against COVID," the governor said at a news conference at Newington High School. He called the policy change "an example of the fact we're successfully wearing the masks. All of you are now eligible to get vaccinated."
Lamont said schools still will notify parents of an exposure in the classroom, and those with symptoms are asked to stay home.
Dr. Manisha Juthani, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, acknowledged that asymptomatic infection and spread is possible but there are "many layered strategies that are going toward mitigation of COVID," such as vaccinations — which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved Tuesday for kids ages 5 to 11 — and the mask mandate.
"What we have seen, around this country, is that rates of COVID from in-classroom masked transmission, between students or staff, are extremely low," Juthani said. She added, "We even have data that came out from this summer of schools that did similar things to this, for example in North Carolina, and had very, very low rates of transmission, even with the delta variant" of the coronavirus.
Newington Superintendent Maureen Brummett said she was talking to North Carolina superintendents at a national conference last week and they called this policy a gamechanger.
Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, sent a letter three weeks ago to Juthani and Charlene Russell-Tucker, commissioner of the Connecticut State Department of Education, asking them to implement a "Test and Stay Policy" like the one in Massachusetts.
Juthani said DPH explored the idea of doing Test and Stay but called it "extremely costly" and cumbersome for schools. She said there are a limited number of the rapid tests that would be needed, and it would take a couple months to get schools certified for laboratory testing.
In a news conference that Connecticut House Republicans held Thursday after Lamont's announcement, Howard said he was glad to see the public health and education departments "finally listening and coming together."
"I think we need to realize that our students are going to compete nationally for colleges and in the workforce, and we have to be careful not to create a competitive disadvantage to them with the achievement gap that we're creating in this state," Howard said.
House Minority Leader Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, called Thursday "an incremental step" in addressing issues in schools and keeping kids in schools, but he voiced concern about the state not collecting enough data.
"Connecticut is not leading on education, like we usually do," Candelora said. "We're following, as you heard from the governor, states like Arizona, North Carolina, and Massachusetts, who have put these policies in place well into August."
So, will school districts in southeastern Connecticut participate?
Stonington Superintendent Van Riley said his district is awaiting further guidance from the state education and health departments but does plan to participate. East Lyme Superintendent Jeffrey Newton also said he is awaiting further state guidance, and "once we have it, we can review and begin to make collective decisions regarding potential implementation."
Other superintendents in the region didn't respond Thursday to an email inquiry.
The leaders of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, Connecticut Association of Schools, Connecticut Education Association teachers' union and Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents also spoke in favor of the Screen and Stay policy Thursday, as did Rep. Gary Turco, D-Newington, and Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown.
"Teaching is messy, and it was so hard to do online," CEA President Kate Dias said. "Learning is messy, and it is so hard to do online, but we can navigate those messy roads, together, in a space."