In the wake of Gov. Ned Lamont‘s decision to shift decision-making about masks in schools to local school district officials, Wilton Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Smith has announced to the school community what he plans to recommend to the Board of Education for Wilton.
Smith will not be recommending unilaterally lifting all mitigation strategies for all situations. In fact, he said in an email sent Wednesday, Feb. 9 to “parents, guardians, caregivers and staff” that right now, it’s “premature… to make a final determination regarding masking in schools.”
Smith explained that it’s uncertain what the rules will be until the CT legislature officially votes on what to do when Lamont’s emergency powers expire on Tuesday, Feb. 15. Furthermore, it’s currently still unknown what guidance the CT Department of Public Health (CT-DPH) will be issuing when the legislature does decide.
But, if events do take place as the governor said they would and local school districts do get authorized to set district-specific masking rules, Smith has some preliminary recommendations that he’ll make to the BOE members at their next meeting on Thursday, Feb. 17. Furthermore, he said he has crafted the recommendations “after consulting with [the district’s] medical advisor,” Dr. Christine Macken.
Upon repeal of the state-wide mask mandate, Smith recommends that Wilton Schools:
- Adopt a “mask optional” policy for K-12 students and staff in schools
- Adopt a “mask recommended” policy for preschool
- Per federal requirements, continue to require masks on school buses
Smith explained his reasoning for why he’s planning to make these recommendations:
- During Lamont’s press conference, Dr. Manisha Juthani, the Commissioner of the Department of Public Health expressed her support for a “mask optional” policy for schools.
- Smith said Macken has expressed her support for what he’s suggesting.
- Although preschool students are not eligible to be vaccinated, the “vaccination rates for eligible students and staff are high.”
- 97% of WPS staff are fully vaccinated.
- As of Feb. 3, (new statistics are released weekly each Thursday)
- 93.95% of 12-17 year-olds in Wilton have had two doses of the vaccine
- 40% of 12-17 year-olds in Wilton have received vaccine boosters
- 45.9% of 5-11 year-olds in Wilton have had two doses of the vaccine
- Average daily case rates continue to decline. Smith quoted the following data:
- In Fairfield County, the average daily case rate has fallen to 31.5/100,000.
- Wilton has also seen a marked decline: 55.3/100,000 average daily cases for the two weeks between Jan. 16-29.
- Specific to the schools, Smith said there has also been a “sharp decline” in the numbers of new cases
WPS Daily New Covid Case Count:
Jan. 21 Jan. 22-24 Jan. 25 Jan. 26 Jan. 27 Jan. 28 Jan. 29-31 Feb. 1 Feb. 2 Feb. 3 Feb. 4-7 Feb. 8 15 18 12 3 9 6 13 5 3 0 4 2
Keep Other Mitigation Strategies, and Assess
For now, Smith plans to tell the BOE that he’d like to keep other mitigation strategies in place and see what impact a “mask-optional environment” has. Those strategies include:
- Continue to maximize ventilation
- Continue to promote social distancing to the extent reasonable, including in cafeterias and other large meeting spaces
- Continue to promote hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette
- Continue to offer weekly surveillance testing for both students and staff
- Continue to promote self-monitoring for symptoms and isolation/testing at the onset of COVID symptoms
- Continue to utilize DPH quarantine and isolation guidance
- Continue to provide N95 masks to those staff members who request them
- Continue to provide masks to students who want them and don’t have their own on-site
- Continue to provide at-home tests to staff and families who request them (while supplies last)
Any other steps to relax the rules further in the district would depend on changes in metrics and what’s happening with COVID in the district. Smith wrote that the district would monitor the change “for several weeks” and assess the situation. If case rates remain stable or decline and there’s no “substantial increase” in student or staff absences due to COVID, it would at that point Smith would recommend “stepping back” from other mitigation strategies — and as long as CT-DPH guidance supports that approach.
Looking further down the road, Smith said the next change he would propose would be to increase the population density in cafeterias.
Smith didn’t specifically address the opposite hypothetical situation — if cases and absences rise and COVID becomes more prevalent in the community. He simply wrote that “Adjustments to our approach will be made as necessary and appropriate.”