State Senator Alex Kasser (District 37) was joined on Thursday by more than a dozen members of the Senate Democratic Caucus in calling for Governor Ned Lamont to fund and institute a COVID-19 testing plan for Connecticut’s K-12 public schools.
“We believe that some level of free COVID testing for students and teachers is necessary throughout the year to ensure that schools stay open and safe. This data is also critical to an effective contact tracing system within schools and in the broader community,” Sen. Kasser and the Democratic senators wrote. “Our goal is to ensure that schools stay safely open all year long. Safe schools are imperative for children’s emotional, social and physical wellbeing. Students deserve to have the option of learning in person with their peers and parents deserve that option too.”
The Democrats’ letter also notes that many private schools in Connecticut are regularly testing their students for COVID-19 or conducting “pool testing” of students in an effort to monitor the virus.
“There’s a significant disparity between what private schools and colleges can afford and what is available to public schools,” Kasser said in a release. “But if public schools lack the resources to detect asymptomatic cases and prevent outbreaks, those schools are at greater risk of closing. That’s not fair to students, teachers and their families. And it’s not in the best interests of the state, because keeping schools safely open enables parents to work and the economy to rebuild.”
Kasser recommended against a ‘wait-and-see’ approach and address COVID-19 outbreaks in public schools only after they’ve occurred.
“We need a proactive plan to prevent outbreaks. Offering free testing to detect cases, especially asymptomatic cases, before a problem develops is a wise approach. Federal funds are available to cover these costs,” she added.
The Democrats’ request comes at the same time that students or staff members at a dozen different Connecticut public schools from Stamford to Killingly, Bridgeport to Somers have contracted COVID-19, causing those schools to temporarily suspend classes.
The request also comes as the Connecticut Education Association has issued a 13-point list of actions that it says public schools must enact in order to “operate at capacity,” including all students wearing masks, social distancing, and notice of any COVID-19 infection, with appropriate contact tracing and quarantining.
Kasser has been pushing for testing in public schools since before the start of the school year. In an interview with GFP on Sept 1 she noted the district cannot mandate testing without an Executive Order from the Governor, but with the Governor’s emergency powers extended, it is not ruled out.
She pointed out that private schools including Brunswick and Greenwich Academy required students be tested before they returned to school. She said they organized drive through testing with appointments and requiring every student submit a negative test before school started.
“I feel strongly public school students and teachers should have the same protections,” Kasser said, adding that the district might be able to contract for mass testing with a lab, and that with clearance from the State, students wouldn’t have to get doctor’s orders to be tested.
“I understand that cost is an issue, but that was why I was trying to appeal to the administration to reallocate existing free testing resources we have for the next week to the public schools,” she added. “The resources are there.”
At Wilbur Peck the Family Centers operates a FQHC, which stands for federally qualified health center, and offer free Covid testing.