Update: Reached for comment after the Governor’s announcement, Greenwich Schools Board of Education chair Kathleen Stowe said that while she could not speak for her colleagues, it was important to hear from public health officials.
“I can tell you where I stand,” she said. “I pushed to get the kids back to school by using all the recommended health measures at the time. Greenwich and our students have responded well to this pandemic, we have achieved high vaccination rates, and I think that should give us the flexibility to make masks optional for our students.”
Original story: During a press conference on Monday afternoon, Governor Ned Lamont announced that in anticipation of his executive powers coming to a close on Feb 15, per mutual agreement with the legislature, he recommended ending the statewide school mask mandate on Feb 28, inclusive of sports.
He said after the mandate is lifted it would be up to mayors and schools superintendents to make the decision locally, district by district.
The governor said that the legislature was set to hold hearings starting as early as Tuesday and there are still 11 executive orders in force, one being the mask mandate for schools and daycare.
Reflecting on the past two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, Lamont said keeping schools open for in person learning had always been a top priority.
“I thought there was nothing more important in terms of the well being of our kids,” he said. “A year ago in September we were one of the first states in the country to have our schools open, with masks. There was no vaccine at that point. …Our schools opened safely with in person learning.”
“And just last September we were opened again, while a lot of states further south opened without any masks and were constantly opening and closing, with quarantines and isolation we were able to avoid.”
Lamont noted that unlike earlier in the pandemic, there are now tools to keep safe, including vaccines, N95 masks and at home tests.
“Back then if Typhoid Mary or Covid Ken walked into a store, they had to be masked because they could put themselves at risk, and they could put everyone else at risk. Today, with boosters, vaccines, N95 masks, you’re in a better position to keep yourself safe.”
The Governor said he’d worked closely with New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Earlier in the day New Jersey and Delaware announced plans to lift school mask mandates.
Lamont said if the school mask mandate is lifted, districts could still choose to enforce masks.
“School districts will make the decisions,” he said. “Superintendents will work with their local public health departments.”
“My recommendation is we end the mask mandate as of Feb 28,” Lamont said. “Every town has a different sense of vaccinations and the risks to make an informed decision yourself.”
Dr. Manisha Juthani, Commissioner of the CT Dept of Public Health said, “We have so many tools at our disposal to protect ourselves and our communities. The number one thing being vaccination.”
She noted respiratory viruses circulate most in winter time.
“The closer we get to warmer weather and longer days and times when people can open windows and allow less respiratory viruses, including flu,” she said. “You can continue to mask if you decide in your community that’s what works best for you, but if you choose not to …we’re removing the statewide mask mandate.”
She noted that with Omicron there was a rapid uptick and a much more rapid downtick than with any previous variant known to date, and case counts and positivity were both dropping.
“But now there are self tests, and vaccines are really good at keeping people out of the hospital and dying,” she added, noting that different communities have different vaccination rates, so it made sense to move the decision to the local level.
Asked what would happen if another variant emerged, Lamont said, “If Zombiecron comes up and spikes up as fast as its sister Omicron, we’d reserve the right to make a change. That’s another reason while we’re waiting another two weeks. And we’re doing it after winter break. We’ll have rapid tests available for educators and kids so they can come back to school safely.”
Lamont said he expected people will live with this virus for a very long time.
“If you saw 1918 and others, there will be ripples,” Lamont added. “We’ve got the tools to do it. To keep ourselves and schools safe. That’s part of living with it.”
While Governor Lamont endorses the plan to eliminate the universal mask requirement for schools and childcare centers, he recommended that it remain in place in other settings where it currently is in effect, including healthcare facilities, facilities housing vulnerable populations, public and private transit, and correctional facilities.
Lamont also talked about personal responsibility.
“Overall, we are one of the most vaccinated states,” he said. “If you know you are vulnerable and you think you’re going into a setting where you’ll be particularly vulnerable, wearing a mask will always be protective.”
He noted over 95% of teachers were vaccinated and most were boosted, and the majority of high schoolers were too. A little over half the K-8 population were vaccinated.
“There’s another three weeks. Here’s your chance to step up and make sure your child is vaccinated and safe.”
“Two years into this thing, you’re not going to get an all clear sign. There’s not going to be a day where they say that we have zero infection, yipee,” Lamont said. “We know from previous experience that there will be additional ripples as time goes. I think this is the right decision at the right time to give discretion to our mayors and superintendents. We now know how to live with this. I think it’s going to be milder and less impactful. That means your vaccine, and your booster, and mask on special occasions will be more impactful and able to make you safe.”