Public Health Committee Discussing Face Masks in Schools

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Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive powers are ending on Feb. 15 unless lawmakers vote to extend them.

The Public Health Committee held a virtual hearing on Tuesday, giving legislators an opportunity to ask questions before making a decision on continuing 11 of Lamont’s executive orders.

One of those orders is for the mask mandate to continue in schools statewide until Feb. 28. If legislators approve this, then in March individual school districts and daycares will start making the decision of whether to continue a mask mandate.

Some are questioning this, like the Kate Dias, the president of the Connecticut Education Association.

Dias said she is concerned that this decision is not based on science and could be made prematurely and lead to more COVID-19 cases in schools.

“Our goal really is to avoid having one more space for conflict and really trying to make education a space for health, wellbeing, the education of our kids being the priority. And the more things that kind of get pushed into the board of ed and the superintendent’s lap, the more places for building out conflict,” said Dias.

Dr. Manisha Juthani, the department of public health commissioner, explained during Tuesday’s hearing that they are relying on the science.

"Our case rates are coming down, our hospitalizations are coming down at a rate far faster than we've ever seen earlier in this pandemic. That reflects the less virulent nature of the Omicron variant and I've seen the numbers in terms of people being discharged from the hospital like we've never seen before. So that is a very hopeful sign,” Juthani said.

Juthani further explained that respiratory viruses are still circulating during the month of February, so that’s why they advise that masks stay on for now. In the meantime, the state Department of Public Health will use this month to develop guidance for schools to follow.

Juthani said school districts should be looking at “lower case rates overall and higher vaccination is going to be more helpful, but I cannot give you distinct numbers. This is where we will be giving guidance to local health departments and schools who will work together to be able to figure out what is going to work best for them in their community."

The virtual hearing is continuing throughout the day on Tuesday with nearly 370 people signed up to speak.

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