NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Mayor Justin Elicker announced Thursday New Haven schools are not moving to hybrid learning on Nov. 9, as originally planned. Additionally, the city’s business community will be reverting back to Phase 2 reopening restrictions immediately.
All this in response, Mayor Elicker says, to a significant rise in COVID-19 cases in the state and the Elm City. He says the city is in the orange COVID infection zone designated by the state, but fast heading toward the red zone. This as virus-related hospitalizations triple in the city.
Students in the New Haven Public Schools system were set to return to the classroom in just a few weeks, and the Board of Alders education committee was working to help them handle the transition.
But, the mayor says remote learning will continue until further notice.
“We know this decision creates a hardship on many New Haven families,” Mayor Elicker said. “The Health Director, Dr. Tracey and I did not make this decision lightly.”
The city-operated student learning hubs will also be closed indefinitely starting Monday, Nov. 2. Starting Wednesday, Nov. 4, City Hall will be closed and accessible by appointment only.
Teachers and administrators have not only been working to educate students remotely but also helping those students deal with changes in everyday life, especially during this challenging time.
In a virtual meeting Wednesday night, the committee discussed ways to provide more support for the students.
One way is introducing “Wellness Wednesday.” Students get to respond to a weekly survey on how they are using their time to focus on social and emotional well-being. Educators said it is great to hear from their students in that way.
In addition, one committee member said, “One of the social workers sent me today a platform of how she is doing calming strategies for students during Halloween time about how they may not be able to go out or trick or treat because a lot of kids are upset about that. So she’s offering calming strategies for families that are centered around Halloween and Halloween themes and music. So they are getting very creative to try to support families.”
Educators and social workers will continue to use these techniques when they and their students return to the classroom.
The committee also said that the social workers are now preparing for the hybrid model, so they can engage students through both in-person and virtual platforms when they do return to school.
“I think that what has been working for our students who are disengaged. Is that we are able to reach them through the virtual platform,” a member of the meeting said.
New Haven students have been participating in remote learning for around 8 and a half weeks. They were to return to a hybrid model of in-person learning on Nov. 9 but that has since been changed.
Nijija-Ife Waters, a parent in New Haven, told News 8, “You can’t risk our children’s lives, our families. I’m glad, I’m happy. If I can do cartwheels right now I would, I really would.”
Waters has been advocating for a postponement to hybrid learning. She and her son – who is medically compromised – are relieved the city has made the call to stay remote.
“It takes the stress off of me, worrying about her, my friends, my teachers,” Amadi Towe said.
Superintendent Dr. Iline Tracey said, “It is very important to err on the side of caution, to be extremely cautious because lives matter to us, health and safety of families, our students take highest priority.”
As for the city as a whole, New Haven is now the first major Connecticut city rolling back its COVID-19 restrictions.
Effective immediately, the city’s business community will revert from Phase 3 to Phase 2, “reducing the occupancy caps for many businesses,” the mayor said Thursday. “Our COVID task force will be increasing enforcement on establishments to ensure we are in compliance.”
Indoor performing arts centers must close just weeks after reopening.
Capacity for indoor dining is now back to 50% capacity from 75%.
“It is quite clear we are on an upward trend,” Mayor Elicker said. “We didn’t want to wait till we were closer to Nov. 9 to share this information. People need predictability. People need to prepare.”
Business owners tell News 8 they’ve been watching the data, too. Some tell us they agree: safety first.
Claire Criscuolo of Claire’s Corner Copia said, “I’m not saying that I’m happy about it because I’m not. I’m worried, of course, just like everyone else. I have a big staff. I was blessed to get my staff back. I’ve never laid anyone off in 45 years and I’d like to keep it that way. But we have to keep it safe.”
New Haven officials also announced Thursday, seven new positive coronavirus cases among First Student bus drivers and monitors based in the Elm City. The fleet is grounded in the city for now. Sources say the outbreak stems from a party that the workers attended.
City Health Director Maritza Bond reports at least one child came in contact with an infected bus driver, but says neither the company nor the driver knew of that driver’s positive status while they were on the job.
New Haven Health Department is investigating the outbreak.
Mayor Elicker attributes the surge in COVID cases in the Elm City to rise in social gatherings, parties, and interactions with those outside the core family group.
It is critical that you do your part to ensure the virus does not spread. The surge in cases is happening because more and more residents are attending social gatherings, parties, and having other interactions with those outside of their core family group.
By not following the COVID-19 guidelines from medical experts, you are risking exposure to others who could then lose their lives to the virus. If the number of cases goes back down, we will be able to open up again.– Mayor Justin Elicker (D)/ New Haven
A COVID outbreak at a New Haven daycare, too, is blamed on a social gathering.
The city continues to offer free COVID-19 testing for anyone in New Haven. Check out the City’s COVID website or call the Health Department at (203) 946-4949 for more information on testing sites.