State officials are tracking the presence of the more-transmissible Delta strain of the COVID-19 virus, but could not say Friday how its presence here might impact schools when they reopen later this year.
During a Friday morning press conference at Bradley International Airport, Acting Public Health Commissioner Dr. Deidre Gifford said that testing in Connecticut had identified “about 40” cases of the Delta strain of the coronavirus. The strain, which was first identified in India, has recently been flagged as a concern by the Centers for Disease Control.
Some experts expect the strain to become the predominant form of the virus over the summer as cases are generally low. On Friday there were 70 new reported cases of COVID-19 and a positivity rate of 0.45%. The total number of people hospitalized around the state dropped by four to 33 patients.
Gifford said the new strain is still a concern because it is “probably more infectious and maybe more deadly than the previous variants” and poses a greater threat to people who are unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated.
“Get vaccinated so that we don’t see the Delta variant begin to take hold here in Connecticut or elsewhere in the United States and also, if you start your series, please complete it three or four weeks later because the Delta variant does seem to have some properties that it’s not as effective after only one dose,” Gifford said.
The variant has some public health officials concerned about transmission among students when schools reopen in the fall. Currently, there is no vaccine approved for use among children younger than 12 years old. During a Friday appearance on CNBC, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and occasional unofficial advisor to Gov. Ned Lamont, said additional precautions in schools like social distancing and mask requirements might make sense when they reopen.
“I think it might be a prudent thing to do heading into the fall when we don’t know what the situation’s going to look like and whether or not this new Delta variant is going to lead to the resurgence that’s being modeled right now. If it does we’re probably not going to see it until we start to get into September,” Gottlieb said.
Throughout the pandemic, Lamont has required masks in Connecticut schools. The order prompted a lawsuit from a group of parents and an organization which opposed the requirement. Although state courts have upheld the school mask mandates and other pandemic precautions issued by Lamont, it is unclear whether he will require them in the fall. At the moment, the governor’s emergency authority is set to expire next month.
In a text message, Max Reiss, the governor’s chief spokesman, said fall guidelines would be developed with the Public Health Department.
“[W]e continue to consult with DPH on the mask mandate,” Reiss said.
Maura Fitzgerald, a spokesperson for the department said the agency was working with the Education Department to craft mask-wearing guidelines for the fall. That guidance will incorporate expected updates from the CDC before the school year, she said.
“We’re watching the variant and more generally we’re watching the COVID-19 conditions in the state,” Fitzgerald said. “The presence of this variant and the other variants are a good proof-point for why kids need to get vaccinated.”