Amid continued rising COVID-19 case numbers statewide and Connecticut’s climbing test positivity rate, Gov. Ned Lamont has his eye on protecting some of the most vulnerable CT residents — children, especially those that aren’t vaccinated.
He made two separate appearances on Tuesday, Aug. 17 related to COVID and going back to school: in the morning he announced that face masks will be mandatory in all CT schools at least through Sept. 30; later in the day urged kids who are 12-17 years old to get vaccinated.
“All students wear a mask, K-12,” Lamont told reporters early Tuesday. “At this point don’t see that changing.”
The announcement was, in fact, a reaffirmation of the governor’s current policy. His existing executive orders already mandate that everyone wears a mask inside schools, regardless of vaccination status. The CT State Department of Education and the CT Department of Public Health are in the process of reviewing and revising statewide mask policies for schools, which officials say will be released before the start of the school year.
Lamont did acknowledge that his emergency powers have only been extended through Sept. 30.
“But I think getting our schools off on the right footing makes the most sense. I see some of the problems they’re having in a number of the southern states where the kids are not wearing masks, where they are forced to quarantine, where teachers are getting ill. And we’re not going to let that happen, not in Connecticut,” Lamont declared.
While he hasn’t asked state legislators yet for an extension of those powers beyond Sept. 30, the governor indicated he won’t take his eye off the idea of mask mandates in schools beyond that date if the virus is still a threat.
“I want to make sure everyone can be in that classroom safely,” he reiterated later in the day at another press event. “I hope it’s not something we have to do for more than a month or two, but time will tell. COVID has its own timetable.”
It was at his afternoon appearance that the governor pushed for more teens to get vaccinated. He stood with a group of high school athletes as he talked to reporters.
“Look, we missed you a lot this year. We missed you a lot last year, and we’re getting it right this year. C’mon 12-15-year-olds, c’mon 15-17-year-olds, step up! We really need you to do it,” he urged.
That, in combination with masks in schools, is what the governor said will keep CT students in the classrooms and schools open.
“We get everybody back to school … make sure that you can learn safely, make sure that your teachers can teach safely, and make sure that you can beat your rivals on the playing field safely,” Lamont added.
Dr. Diedre Gifford, CT’s acting public health commissioner, said Tuesday that 46% of CT’s 12-15-year-olds are fully vaccinated, and 58% have received at least one dose; vaccination rates for 16- and 17-year-olds are slightly higher, at 63% fully vaccinated and 72% with at least one dose.
While vaccination numbers for Wilton’s teenagers are not as high as neighboring Westport, Darien and New Canaan, they’re still substantially higher than they are statewide. Town residents age 12-17 years, 84.44% have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 75.78% are fully vaccinated (as of Aug. 12).
Vaccination Rates for 12-17 year olds
Town One Dose Two Doses Norwalk 71.67% 58.76% Ridgefield 78.56% 71.24% Weston 81.36% 73.28% Wilton 84.44% 75.78% New Canaan 89.27% 77.83% Westport 92.70% 83.80% Darien 95.62% 86.37%
At Tuesday evening’s (Aug. 17) Board of Selectmen meeting, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice discussed Wilton’s vaccination numbers, for teens as well as overall.
“Wilton has done extremely well in terms of vaccinations,” she said. “The big issue with vaccinations is the under 12 population. They’re talking about making the vaccine available to kids aged 5 and above, which would be great because you can see how well we’ve done with the 12-17 group and you’d expect we’re going have a large vaccination rate under 12.”
She shared vaccination rates for all age groups as well:
Wilton’s Case Data
Lamont’s announcements were made on a day that statewide test positivity rose to 4.25%, the highest it’s been in several months. What’s more, the number of hospitalized COVID patients in Connecticut passed 300, increasing by 36 people to 321 in total.
In Wilton, there have been six new positive cases reported since GOOD Morning Wilton‘s most recent COVID-19 update on Friday, Aug. 13. With just under two weeks left to go, August has seen 31 cases already, a sharp uptick from June’s (4) and July’s (12) totals — and the month is only half over.
Following the meeting, GMW asked Vanderslice to break down the case number data for vaccinated and unvaccinated residents.
“Of the 20 cases between Aug. 5 and Aug. 12, we have detailed information on 14: 12 were vaccinated, with the youngest being 20 years old. The other two were unvaccinated, an adult and a 15-year old,” she said, adding that going forward, the CT DPH will begin providing the vaccination status along with new case numbers.
Vanderslice explained that because of the increased virulence of the Delta variant, many of Wilton’s positive cases are among vaccinated individuals — with two important distinctions:
- While the number of positive cases among vaccinated residents is higher than in unvaccinated individuals, the rate at which both groups are testing positive is similar because there is a significantly greater proportion of vaccinated residents.
- Unvaccinated residents are getting sicker — vaccinated residents are having mild to no symptoms. “We’re not seeing the illnesses because [many are] vaccinated, and that’s the important thing … As we see in our hospital numbers, [the vaccinated] are not likely to have anything beyond mild symptoms.”
Like Lamont, she too made the case for vaccines and mask-wearing.
“Unvaccinated residents are the residents at greatest risk. They have the ability to protect themselves by wearing a mask and/or receiving the vaccination,” she wrote to GMW in an email after the meeting.
In fact, she credited mask-wearing and Wilton’s high vaccination rates with helping to protect some of the most vulnerable, unvaccinated people in town: children under age 12.
“Wilton is seeing virtually no cases in children under age 12. Local youth programs require mask-wearing while indoors. Because of the high rate of vaccination in the community and mask-wearing by unvaccinated residents, Wilton hasn’t seen a significant spread among the unvaccinated,” she said.
She also noted that surrounding communities with higher cases per 100,000 have had children testing positive.
Vanderslice also credited Wilton parents for their efforts to protect their children, specifically with wearing masks.
While she encouraged the use of masks, particularly around the unvaccinated and for children indoors, she did not feel a mandate for masks for the vaccinated was necessary at this time, given how many residents are vaccinated and voluntarily wearing masks.