To the Editor:
Wilton’s Democratic Town Committee supports Gov. Lamont’s determination to end the state’s mandate on school masking and allowing those decisions to be made locally. His announcement follows comment from many constituents, including a request from Wilton’s Board of Education sent to Hartford [Monday, Feb. 7]. We look forward to a careful decision on the final date for required masks in Wilton’s schools.
Let’s not minimize the real tragedy: over 10,000 Connecticut neighbors have died in the last two years and more would have died without the wise leadership of Gov. Lamont and other state and local leaders. School masking has been the right policy, but it has come with real costs. No matter how resilient our students are, emotional health and developmental progress has been a challenge for many. At some point the masking policy needs to evolve.
Vaccines are now readily available to everyone over [age] five, and that group of youngest kids will likely have access very soon. The vaccines are remarkably safe and effective in reducing severe disease and death, and boosters increase that efficacy. Monoclonal antibodies, antivirals, other therapeutics, and newer treatment protocols are proving highly valuable.
Let’s acknowledge that COVID is almost always a treatable disease in children. Fewer than 1,000 American children under 18 have died from COVID in the last two years. Each is a tragedy, but context requires that we recognize this rate is equivalent to annual flu deaths in children. And childhood COVID cases should decrease markedly with available vaccines. The fact is that children are the safest group from COVID yet we ask them to bear the greatest burden when it comes to masking.
We are eternally grateful to the teachers and staff who have kept our schools running. Their efforts and health risks must be acknowledged. But many teachers are themselves increasingly concerned by the effect of masking on their students. When school masking is finally relaxed, safety for teachers and staff (and for all of us) will ultimately come from vaccines, therapies, herd immunity, personal choice to continue masking, and the expectation of weaker mutations.
[This past] December and January our hospitals were overwhelmed once again, by the Omicron wave. Too many people are not vaccinated and even vaccinated people can sometimes require hospitalization, especially if they are unboosted and have significant underlying conditions. We should be prepared to reinstate masking if another dangerous variant comes our way that overloads hospitals, even if that requires state action.
At last week’s Wilton Board of Education meeting Superintendent Kevin Smith and the Board strongly agreed that we must proactively determine a Wilton approach. As Board Chairwoman Deborah Low said, we should “bring it from the state into Wilton.” And as Superintendent Smith said: “Everybody is ready to try to move forward… but how do we do it safely?” Clear advice is needed from Connecticut’s Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and others. That advice should underpin Wilton’s unmasking decision, based on factors such as vaccination rates, absences, hospitalizations, and deaths here and in neighboring towns. There are no easy answers, and Superintendent Smith, Chairwoman Low, and the board deserve thanks for their thoughtful leadership.
Connecticut was right to establish a statewide school masking mandate, but COVID and our ability to respond have evolved. With vaccines and strong therapeutics being widely available, with vaccines expected soon for under-five-year-olds, with Omicron waning, with spring and outdoor activities on the horizon, and with the unfortunate reality that no one can guarantee 100% safety, our towns should be allowed to adopt local school masking policies. It will soon be time to try this one step back to normalcy.
Wilton Democratic Town Committee