At his daily press briefing for updates on the state’s COVID-19 response, Gov. Ned Lamont had a special guest with him–Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institute of Health’s leading expert on infectious diseases and an advisor to the president on the current health crisis.

The biggest headline to come out of the press conference was that Fauci commended Connecticut for doing a good job keeping infection rates low, and if that trend continues, he supports Gov. Lamont’s position that schools should reopen for in-person learning–as long as rates stay low and everyone continues to practice safe behaviors.

“Depending upon what level you’re in, my approach is always, whether I’m in Connecticut or in any other place, is that the default position should be to try as best as you possibly can to open up the schools for in-person learning for the following reason:  it’s important for the children because of the psychological benefit. And in some places, even for the nutrition of children who rely on the breakfast and the lunches in school or proper nutrition from the two,” he said, adding that keeping schools closed could also have an unintended negative effect on parents who have dramatically modified their own work schedule.

Fauci acknowledged how difficult it might be to keep children socially distanced, especially very young ones.

“My daughter is a school teacher in New Orleans and she tells me, ‘Dad, be careful when you say, “do these things,” they may not be technically as easy to do as you think it is.’ So I’m aware of that, but we need to try as best as we can,” he explained.

Fauci referred to the current test data that Gov. Lamont shared earlier in the briefing–that despite passing 50,000 total positive cases since the start of the COVID crisis, Connecticut’s current positive test case rate is 0.7–that’s the percent of positive cases out of the total number tested.

Another indicator the governor keeps track of, especially as the main metric for determining whether schools should open, is the number of new positive cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day average. Anything under 10 cases indicates a low risk for transmitting COVID-19, 10-25 cases indicates a medium risk, and anything over 25 is high risk.

As of Monday, Aug. 3, Connecticut is at two (2) cases on this scale.

According to the governor, both “low” and “medium” mean at least a partial in-school option to students is safe.

Fauci said those numbers indicate that the state is doing the right thing.

“Connecticut is in a good place. The numbers that the governor just showed are really indicative that you are in a situation that you now are in many respects, have the upper hand, because you have such a low rate that when you do get new cases, you have the capability of containment as opposed to mitigation.”

Fauci wasn’t as sure about distances of less than six feet in classrooms.

“I can’t give a definitive answer on that because six feet is kind of an empirical determination based on what one thinks about how droplets can travel before they go down. But now that …we’ll have to deal with the possibility of aerosolized, then what is more important is good ventilation, really, as well as trying to keep as further distance as you possibly can, given the technical constraints in the classroom. You should try to get six. If you can’t and three is the best you can do, then there are other things you can do to mitigate against spread. There could be mask-wearing, depending upon the age of the children, is it feasible to have a child at a certain age to keep a mask on. As well as good ventilation in the classroom, because we know outdoors is always better than indoors and good ventilation is always better than no ventilation.”

Fauci gave Lamont good marks for how he’s been handling the crisis, especially when it comes to making decisions about CT students returning to school. “I’ve worked with the governor now for several months, and I think he’s perfectly capable of making that decision. He’s quite well informed about how to do this.”

He said it’s absolutely critical to continue doing what residents are doing to prevent new outbreaks.

“The other thing… I’m very pleased with is that in spite of favorable numbers, you’re not pulling back on your vigilance and making sure you don’t have a resurgence of cases that would put you back rather than stay where you are and going forward. …You have maintained certain things that I consider five or six of the very important things we need to do to stay ahead of the virus:  universal using of masks; avoid crowded places; six-foot distance, maintain that whether you have a mask or not, but always try to have a mask on; indoors are worse than outdoor;…Then finally wash your hands, have good hand hygiene,” he said, adding that it’s also important to stay away from bars, what he called “a big spreader of infection.”

Fauci also had a message for anyone who continues to refuse to wear a mask, especially after the protest the day before of people insisting mask-wearing isn’t necessary.

“If you look at the totality of the data–which is masks together with social distancing, avoiding crowds–masks, as part of this have been shown in better analysis to diminish the infection, transmissibility, and acquisition by a significant percent. No intervention in and of itself is perfect, but there’s no doubt that wearing masks properly, wearing them indoors, particularly in the outdoors also, keeping social distance, clearly, clearly is beneficial in the resurgence of infection and turning around the kinds of resurgences that we’ve seen in the Southern States. So for those who say, don’t wear a mask, it’s of no benefit that is untrue and misleading.”

He added that the state will not completely eradicate the virus, noting that “blips of infection” are “inevitable.”

Gov. Lamont has his own message for the protesters and anyone else who continues to openly defy his orders to wear masks and social distance.

“We’re going to deal with that strictly. We’re looking at the possibility of fines and other ways we can hold people accountable, especially … when they openly flout it. That creates a dangerous situation, not just for them, but as Dr. Fauci says, for the greater community. We’re not going to stand for it.”