With the start of school just 10 days away, Gov. Ned Lamont made a move that he said will increase the chance of Connecticut children being able to stay in school despite COVID-19 case numbers beginning to rise again. At a press conference on Thursday, Aug. 19, the governor issued a mandate requiring all K-12 and early childhood teachers and staff to get vaccinated by Sept. 27.

The move piggybacks on his executive order earlier this week mandating mask-wearing in all schools throughout the state. It also applies to both public schools and private schools.

“In-person classroom education, there’s no substitute for it. We’re not going to have a lost year of education. So those kids are wearing that mask and, you know what that means? That means, no offense, but we’re not Mississippi,” Lamont said, showing a news headline about 20,000 Mississippi students in COVID quarantine after the first week of school.

“They’re not wearing masks. They’re a lot less likely to be vaccinated, a lot less likely. Not in Connecticut. Our kids are going to be in school. Our kids are going to be in schools safely, our teachers are going to be able to teach safely,” he said, adding, “That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what these rules are all about.”

*Although he’s made vaccines mandatory for educators, the governor did say that teacher who seeks a medical or religious exemption would be required to submit to weekly COVID-19 testing.

Lamont’s announcement reflects his increasing concern about rising case numbers as well as COVID-19 hospitalization data.

He noted that the average test positivity rate in Connecticut has hovered around 3.3% for the last two weeks, when just a few months ago the state was at half a percent. But more worrisome to Lamont are the hospitalization statistics.

As of Thursday, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the state stood at 344, up from a low of 25 at the beginning of July. Lamont expects that number to grow even more, although it’s unlikely to come anywhere near the peak of 2,000 people hospitalized at the worst of the pandemic.

“We’ve learned our lesson for best in class. That’s because we’re vaccinated,” he said, pointing out that 74% of CT residents age 12-and-older are fully vaccinated, and 83% of those 18-and-above have had at least one dose.

“That makes an enormous difference. And that’s why we’re a little different in terms of protocols compared to some of the other states. We’re number two nationally, number two in the country when it comes to a population vaccinated.”

He linked the vaccination and hospitalization stats on another slide.

“You’re five times more likely to be hospitalized and suffer complications if you’re not vaccinated than if you are vaccinated. Five times! There’s some examples of breakthrough [cases]. There are nine people who were vaccinated who were in the ICU, but that’s nine out of 2.3 million [vaccinated CT residents]. So keep things in perspective,” Lamont said.

He gave another statistic:  “You’re 10 times more likely to really suffer severe complications and go to the intensive care unit if you’re unvaccinated, 10 times! This is just yet another reminder, these vaccines are working. Get vaccinated.”

The question remains whether Lamont’s executive orders, particularly about mask-wearing in schools and mandatory vaccines, will continue past Sept. 30 when his emergency powers are scheduled to end. “I don’t think Delta will be over by Sept. 30,” he told a reporter who asked whether the governor had talked with legislators about keeping the mandates in place.

Lamont’s chief of staff Paul Mounds said the administration has reached out to state lawmakers.

“We are looking at it from a legal perspective. We’re going to be following directly up with legislative leaders. We had an initial conversation today, not too thorough, but we will have more thorough conversations with them in the coming weeks as the governor has always has stated, we want to make sure that the state of Connecticut is in the best position to keep the people in the state of Connecticut safe. That’s what these executive orders have shown and continue to show, but no matter what we want to always be in the position to ensure that the overall safety of the state of Connecticut is in the best position,” Mounds said.

Wilton Case Numbers

Wilton’s COVID-19 case rate growth has slowed since last week.

In a Thursday evening update from First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice, she pointed out that as of Wednesday, Aug. 18, Wilton’s 7-day total number of new cases was eight, or 44 cases per 100,000 residents.

Just one week before, that 7-day total was 20 cases, or 109 cases per 100,000 — a more than 50% decline. Following the CDC guidance, that drop lowers Wilton to the “moderate transmission risk” (yellow).

State health officials follow a different scale, using a 14-day daily average number of cases per 100,000 for their classification system. Under Connecticut’s guidance, Wilton remains as an orange community.

Vanderslice attributed the decline in cases to resident behavior.

“The decline in cases occurred after vaccinated residents voluntarily began wearing masks while indoors in response to CT DPH’s recommendation. The recommendation, consistent with the CDC, came as Fairfield County and the State reached substantial transmission [(red)].”

Stopping short of a issuing a mask mandate, Vanderslice is a proponent of vigilant voluntary mask-wearing.

“Why voluntary mask wearing when 76% of residents are vaccinated? The transmission rate for the Delta variant appears to be about the same for vaccinated and non-vaccinated Wilton residents. As such, parents, grandparents and friends of young children, unvaccinated adults and the immunocompromised made the decision to wear the mask to prevent infection and the spread of the virus. As vaccinated residents, if infected they would generally have no symptoms or only mild symptoms and likely not be aware they had the virus,” she wrote.

She continued her appeal on behalf of Wilton’s youngest residents who are still ineligible for a COVID vaccine.

“There are many residents for whom vaccination and mask wearing is not a voluntary choice, including the more than 2,800 Wilton children 12 years of age and under,” she added.

CDC Classifies Fairfield County as “High Transmission Risk”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has now placed Fairfield County in the “High Transmission” (red) category of COVID-19. Fairfield is the fifth county in the state to be upgraded to the High Transmission category, joining New Haven, Hartford, New London, and Middlesex Counties

The High Transmission category—which is the most severe as defined by the CDC—is 100 or more cases per 100,000 people or a positivity rate of 10% or higher over the past seven days.

The other three Connecticut counties are still classified by the CDC as being in the “Substantial Transmission” (orange) category, defined as 50-100 cases per 100,000 or a positivity rate between 8%-10% over the past seven days.

CT Gears Up to Deliver COVID Booster Shots

Following the CDC recommendation Wednesday, Aug. 18 that Americans receive a third COVID-19 vaccination shot eight months after their second Pfizer or Moderna dose, CT health providers have said they’re prepared to roll out the distribution of boosters as soon as the FDA approves the plan.

According to the Hartford Courant:  “The CDC said Wednesday its recommendation of COVID-19 booster shots came in response to evidence that the vaccines’ protection wanes over time, causing higher risk of breakthrough infection. The shots could begin the week of Sept. 20, the agency said.”

Stamford school staff now required to get COVID vaccine or do weekly testing (Stamford Advocate)