Governor announces Feb. 28 end of statewide school mask mandate; New Haven indoor mandate to stay
Lamont informs the state that, in concert with other New England and Mid-Atlantic states, the Nutmeg state will end its school mask mandate.
Following weeks of back and forth between Governor Ned Lamont and the state legislature, Lamont announced at a Monday press conference that Connecticut’s statewide school mask mandate would end on Feb. 28.
This action was taken in concert with New Jersey, which announced a similar policy with its statewide mask mandate ending on March 9. Rhode Island plans to announce the same change later this week. According to Kyle Buda, communications director for Mayor Justin Elicker, New Haven and NHPS will not see any changes in their mask policies since the city already has an indoor mask mandate which covers schools.
Lamont repealed the statewide mask mandate for vaccinated people in indoor spaces on Sept. 31, 2021; however, masking in spaces like schools, childcare facilities, healthcare facilities, nursing homes, homeless shelters and correctional facilities has still been in effect across the state. Lamont’s announcement on the end of statewide mask mandates only applies to schools and childcare facilities. The power to enforce a mask mandate now falls to local leaders and boards of education.
“My recommendation is that we end the statewide mask mandate as of Feb. 28,” Lamont said. “I think this is something we’ve earned Connecticut, we’ve earned it because we’ve done it right, we’re more likely to wear the mask, we’re likely to get tested, more likely to get vaccinated, and now more likely to get boosted.”
Moreover, Jan Hochadel, the President of American Federation of Teachers CT and national AFT vice president, called for the mask mandate to continue until the end of February. In testimony before the state public health committee, she also acknowledged the right of the state to change masking policies.
“DPH has demonstrated that we are safest when they make decisions,” said Hochadel. Should there be a new variant, we trust DPH to do what is in the best interest of all stakeholders. We also need to be assured that there will be appropriate safety matrix and precautions for all staff who need or want such precautions.”
Hochadel added that she was sure that the state’s education would move forward if all sides kept open communication and operated in good faith.
State Commissioner of Public Health Manisha Juthani said that the rapid rise and fall of the Omicron surge, coupled with declining case counts and positivity rate, allowed for this decision to return control of masking to localities instead of the state.
“We know now that different communities have different rates,” said Juthani. “Therefore, we are putting this decision at the local level where mayors and school boards can assess their population and what works best for them. We still know that masking is an effective way to keep kids in school. But now schools will have that opportunity to decide for themselves what works best for their community at the local level.”
At the press conference, State Acting Education Commissioner Charlene M. Russell-Tucker added that it has “become evident” that students learn better with in-person instruction, and that this decision, in concert with other mitigation measures like social distancing, will “keep schools open.”
“I believe in what the Department of Public Health has put forward all throughout this pandemic,” said Fran DiFiore, co-president for the Connecticut Federation of School Administrators. “I am an educator and we will move on with our district’s health departments to now go back to us.”
The state plans to provide guidance to school districts and local leaders on optional mask mandates, according to Juthani. Lamont added that the state is still reserving the right to step in and reimplement statewide mask mandates if there is a “drastic surge” in COVID-19 cases. However, Lamont clarified that he did not think there was a high possibility of this taking place.
The state is not creating specific metrics to reestablish statewide control of mask mandates, saying it was “difficult” to determine metrics to establish control. Lamont said that he doesn’t think the “virus will just go away” and that there will be “ripples” of the virus, but that the state would have to “learn to live with COVID.”
“Hopefully [COVID-19] has a diminishing impact upon our state and community for a long time to come,” Lamont said. “And I think we got tools and tools for ourselves to be safe. We’ve got the tools to keep our schools safe. Well, that’s part of living with it.”
Lamont took office on Jan. 9, 2019.