NEWINGTON, Conn. (WTNH) — Gov. Ned Lamont and school officials announced Thursday the “Screen and Stay” initiative for Connecticut schools that choose to participate.
Under the initiative, students and staff identified as “close contacts” to a known COVID-19 case but who are not yet fully vaccinated can remain in school if they were wearing masks and don’t develop symptoms.
The governor said this would be instead of quarantines that continue to impact learning and place a burden on working families.
Lamont and school officials held a press conference on the new initiative, which is a voluntary program.
The head of the State Department of Public Health says Connecticut’s layered strategy: high vaccination rates, school mask mandates, and 71 percent of students between 12 and 15 being vaccinated triggered the new policy.
“This is our first step in this off-ramp in this pandemic,” said Dr. Manesha Juthani, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health.
According to the governor’s office, students and staff are eligible to participate if the student comes in close contact with a COVID-19 case occurs under the following circumstances:
- Exclusively during the school day (no extracurricular or social contact);
- If indoors or on a school bus or other school transportation, and both the contact and the COVID-19 case were consistently masked during the exposure even if brief unmasked periods (e.g., snack time, cafeteria) occurred, as long as six feet or more of space was consistently maintained;
- If outdoors, the individuals were masked or unmasked but were supervised by staff (e.g., mask breaks, physical education, recess);
- The close contact remains asymptomatic (any symptoms revert to regular isolation/quarantine).
Examples of close contact scenarios that do not support a screen and stay approach would be:
- Contact with a case during interscholastic or other athletic activities (other than during supervised outdoor physical education and recess);
- Contact occurring during social interactions or similar activities outside of school (e.g., birthday parties, dining out, sleepovers);
- Contact where the individuals were not consistently and correctly wearing masks indoors and a six-foot distance was not maintained;
- The contact occurred between members of the same household (i.e., the contact lives with the case);
- If, upon return to school, the contact cannot consistently and correctly wear a mask.
“If you’re showing symptoms, don’t come into the class,” said Governor Ned Lamont.
Kate Dias with the CEA teachers union explained, “Teaching is messy and it was so hard to do online learning… It’s so hard to do online but we can navigate those roads in a messy space and this allows us to do that.”
Republicans say this should be a statewide mandate and not voluntary so that no students suffer.
“Protocols that are being followed, a 10-day quarantine under state law, none of our districts are obligated to give these children additional help,” said State Rep. Vin Candelora (R), House minority leader.
Republicans say they agree with the new policy, but it’s long overdue.
State Rep. Greg Howard (R) added, “These kids are being sent home for 10 days, they’re given work to work on and then figure it out. And keep in mind, most of these kids are elementary level… I got a text message from a parent whose fourth-grader just got quarantined for 10 days for the third time since Aug. 25.”
In Cromwell, nearly 500 students had to quarantine. In Portland, it was 300. Each of those towns has less than 2,000 students enrolled in their district.
State Rep. Christy Carpino (R-Cromwell) explained, “The percentage of those kids that tested positive was small. Each of those kids lost, on average, up to five days of in-class learning. Talk to a parent, talk to a kid who has been forced to miss their friends, their teachers, and is scared to go back to school.”
The State Department of Education doesn’t track how many students were forced to quarantine or who got COVID. They only track attendance rates. They tell News 8, year-to-date, 5.3% of students have experienced at least one remote day. And of those students, the average number of days is nearly four days out of the classroom.
Republicans say they want a “rapid response team” in place to help students who have fallen behind. Lamont says he will revisit the school mask mandate in January and is leaning toward leaving the decisions to local school districts.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.