State and youth sports officials encouraged eligible student athletes to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus Monday, but declined to say whether it would be a requirement for participation during the coming school year.
With schools reconvening in a matter of weeks and COVID cases resurging amidst spread of the more-infectious Delta variant, parents and students are waiting for directions from the state on which, if any, public health measures will be required in classrooms and athletic fields.
During a morning press conference near a mobile vaccination clinic on the New Haven town green, Gov. Ned Lamont said the COVID-19 situation was changing too rapidly to say what may be required at the end of next month. He did not rule out an eventual mandate and suggested that coaches were already capable of requiring players to get the shot.
“Coaches have a certain authority with their team, as far as I’m concerned,” Lamont said. “It’s a little different situation. You don’t have to play football and I certainly see this in the major leagues, certainly see this in the Olympics. My hunch is, we’ll be talking about this with [the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference].”
The number of daily COVID cases in Connecticut has been on the rise since June as the Delta variant has become the dominant strain of the virus. On Friday, July 23, the state reported 212 new coronavirus cases. A month earlier on June 23, the state reported only 38.
During the press conference, Glenn Lungarini, executive director of the CIAC, said the youth sports organization was in conversations with state agencies to urge student athletes to get the shot. But Lungarini would not say whether CIAC and the state were discussing requiring vaccination.
“[Sports is] as much about helping others achieve their goals as it is your own personal ones. So we’re encouraging everybody to be the best teammate you can be. Get vaccinated,” Lungarini said. “We’re confident that the kids in Connecticut are going to answer that call.”
Currently, children as young as 12 years old are eligible to take the vaccine. However, their uptake rates have been largely stagnant this month. As of Thursday, 67% of residents ages 16 and 17 had gotten at least one shot and 51% between the ages of 12 and 15.
Given the rising infection rates, Lamont was asked whether he was considering renewing public health restrictions aimed at slowing the virus. The governor said he did not anticipate issuing any such orders. “Nobody wants mandates,” he said.
Instead, the governor tried to appeal to the team spirit of the vaccine-hesitant population.
“What I’m trying to say is, it is about the team. It’s not just about you,” Lamont said. “That’s an analogy for the state of Connecticut: it’s not just about you. It’s about all the people you’re in contact with. It’s about doing everything we can to keep you healthy, so that your class is healthy, so that your team is healthy, so that we get through this faster whichever direction the variant may take.”
Although he was reluctant to discuss mandates, the governor said the state’s efforts to incentivize vaccine uptake had, so far, failed to “move the ball dramatically.” New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said incentives in his city have not had a huge impact.
“I don’t think the message people should take away here is that we shouldn’t be exploring mandates,” Elicker said. “Yale University is doing a mandate. Yale New Haven Hospital is doing a mandate and other businesses out there should be exploring the option of doing a mandate as well. We have mandates for other types of vaccines.”
Lamont said he and regional governors would likely discuss the possibility of reinstating travel restrictions but currently had no plans to do so. In the meantime, Connecticut residents should consider avoiding travel to states where infection rates were high.
“Probably not a really good week to go to Missouri or Arkansas, is sort of my sense,” Lamont said. “I’d probably skip Florida as well.”