CT may lift school mask rules when more kids get vaccinated, Lamont’s office says

Photo of Nicholas Rondinone
Students arrive for the first day of classes at Coleytown Middle School, in Westport, Conn. Aug. 31, 2021.

Students arrive for the first day of classes at Coleytown Middle School, in Westport, Conn. Aug. 31, 2021.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

As COVID cases among students and staff continue to steadily decline, the governor’s office said Friday the school mask mandate could be lifted when more children are vaccinated.

The recent decline in cases comes as the state and its partners prepare to vaccinate the more than 275,000 children who are between the ages 5 and 11 against the virus. Considering the vast majority of COVID cases in schools are among students who are not vaccinated, that effort is likely to drive the numbers down further.

Max Reiss, a spokesman for Gov. Ned Lamont, said it could also mean ending the school mask mandate.

“With the availability of vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds expected in the coming weeks, that leaves open the possibility that masks in schools could eventually go away during the school year,” Reiss said, adding that it will be dependent on how many parents choose to get their children vaccinated.

Reiss noted the school mask mandate is part of the governor’s pandemic-related executive powers, which are due to expire in February.

Asked about a vaccine mandate in schools, Reiss said that possibility is “nowhere near the horizon.”

According to the latest school data released Thursday, the state reported 472 cases among students, 412 of whom were not vaccinated. There were 78 cases among teachers and staff, 21 of whom were not vaccinated, the state’s data shows. Overall, cases in schools were the lowest since Sept. 8.

On a school-by-school basis, there were no sizable clusters of cases. More than 290 schools reported cases, but all had less than six infections. Due to privacy laws, if there are fewer than six cases, a specific number is not provided.

As in past weeks, the decline in cases among students and school staff was similar to the trend of infections statewide. Both the positivity rate of new COVID-19 tests, and hospitalizations were among the lowest since a spike at the end of the summer.

While the majority of eligible school-aged children were vaccinated, the overall percentage has been slow to increase in October. According to the state, an additional 1 percent of children ages 12 to 15 and 16 to 17 were fully vaccinated in the past week.

Many are hopeful the number of vaccines among children will climb quickly if the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention give approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech to be administered to children ages 5 to 11.

An approval for this age group would then make all K-12 students eligible for a vaccine. While cases among children tend not to be as severe as those in adults, experts have said children pose the risk of spreading the virus to adults.

The White House and state officials anticipate an approval could come in the next several weeks. In anticipation, the state said Wednesday it was planning to order 150,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children in a three-wave process.

Pfizer-BioNTech has submitted a request that would call for a smaller dose than what is given to adults, citing research from a clinical trial.

The decline in school cases also comes during a broader testing effort among students. In September, the state launched Project COVID DeteCT, a program that has enrolled hundreds of schools in free testing for K-6 students and unvaccinated students in grades 7-12.

Staff writer Julia Bergman contributed to this story.