HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont and state Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said Tuesday they remain pleased with the reopening of Connecticut’s public schools, despite coronavirus-related concerns raised by the state’s largest teachers union regarding needier districts lacking proper air ventilation, personal protective equipment, and deep cleaning.
Cardona said there have been about 370 cases of infected students and about 150 cases of infected staff reported to state officials since schools opened in August. The 370 cases include students who are currently learning remotely. He said the infection rate for students, who he said appeared to have contracted COVID-19 off-campus, is less than 1%, which is lower than the statewide infection rate.
“A lot of success is happening in our schools. Obviously this always is going to be a work in progress but we’re going to get better at it,” Cardona said, adding how he’s “very impressed” that the percentage of Connecticut students who have returned to their classrooms on a daily basis is higher than the percentage in other states.
In a survey conducted by the Connecticut Education Association and released Tuesday, nearly 2,000 teachers said there are huge inequities between school districts, especially in the state’s 33 lowest-performing districts. More than three-quarters of those surveyed in those districts said air ventilation is a severe problem and less than half said their classrooms are cleaned and disinfected daily, compared to nearly two-thirds of teachers surveyed in the non-lowest-performing districts.
“We must create long-term solutions for addressing and ending the inequities that we have always known to exist, which have been brought to the forefront in this pandemic,” CEA President Jeff Leake said in a written statement.
On Tuesday, Lamont said Connecticut will likely use more of its share of the federal CARES Act program for coronavirus-related education expenses than any other state in the country and has been providing districts with personal protective equipment “to give teachers and schools the confidence that you can go back to school safely.”
He said his administration plans to set aside many of the 69,000 rapid tests Connecticut is expecting to receive later this week from the federal government for economically needier school districts. The tests will allow districts to learn in less than three minutes whether a student is COVID-19 positive. Connecticut ultimately expects to receive a million of the tests by the end of the year, he said.
“What really we want to do is prioritize education, so kids can get back to school and we don’t have to quarantine a whole school to find out it’s just a bad case of the traditional flu,” said Lamont, who is still moving ahead with plans to reopen more of state Thursday, including allowing larger capacity in restaurants and 50% capacity at performing arts venues. Bars will remain shuttered.
Meanwhile, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin announced Tuesday that the capital city’s schools will “very likely” decide next week to move to hybrid learning after seeing a sustained increased in the number of COVID-19 cases. The city’s average positivity rate over the past week has been 2.6%, while the statewide rate was 1.48% on Tuesday.
Hospitalizations remained at 129 statewide while the number of COVID-associated deaths climbed by four to 4,521.
Also on Tuesday, Lamont’s office announced that New Mexico has been added to the list of now 35 locations with relatively high infection rates. Travelers to Connecticut must quarantine for 14 days and fill out a traveler form with contact information. The list also applies to those traveling into New York and New Jersey.