A group of teachers and union leaders said they were disturbed by what they saw when they returned to school Monday.
“I worked in a building today without KN95 or N95 masks,” Kate Dias, president of the Connecticut Education Association, said during a virtual press conference. “Sixty percent of my members don’t have access to masks and more than 70% have reported not having access to testing.”
She said they can agree that’s not the work space they want to be in.
She said the absenteeism rate was around 20%. The statewide COVID test positivity rate was 21.5% on Monday – the first day back after the holiday break.
Enfield, Hamden, Stonington, Stratford, along with Regions 5 and 14 were forced to close or delay school Monday. Ansonia alerted families it will close for the rest of the week.
The Connecticut Education Association, AFT Connecticut, and other unions want to see free weekly COVID testing at schools. They also want N95 masks and in-home test kits for all school districts.
It was a scary day for many, according to Dias. The virus has caused anxiety among both staff and students.
“We probably don’t have enough social workers on hand to help our children,” Dias said.
Mary Yordon, AFT CT vice president, said “Part of the stress of this pandemic is taking care of these children we have relationships with and another part of the stress is being very much at the mercy of this school community to tip the right balance there between needing to go to work for example and sending their child to school when, maybe is that a sore throat.”
She said they are all experiencing those difficult decisions.
Should the at-home tests be good enough to return to school?
“We don’t have a lot of guidance on how to use these tests and how they’re reported,” Yordon said.
The Department of Education and the Department of Public Health released guidance Monday that said at-home tests will be accepted for staff and students to return to school as long as they don’t have a fever for a 24 hour period and few symptoms.
The guidance says individuals who test positive for COVID-19 should isolate at home for at least 5 days, or longer if symptoms develop and persist. A mask should continue to be worn for an additional 5 days at all times when around others.
Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated individuals who are notified that they have had a close contact with an individual who has confirmed or suspected COVID-19 should immediately quarantine at home and test for the virus 5 days after their last exposure to the COVID-19 case.
Public health officials also told schools Monday that routine contact tracing of individual exposures that occur inside schools or during school-organized and supervised activities can be discontinued.
“DPH recommends that schools begin to refocus the activities of health staff away from the investigation of relatively low risk in-school exposures and toward the identification, early isolation, and clinical management of students and staff with active symptoms that could be related to COVID-19,” health officials said in a memo.
Dias said she’s concerned about what this all looks and feels like in the school community.
“I do think reduced quarantine time makes sense to me if that’s what the science tells us to do,” Dias said. “We do welcome that to reduce any absences from the classroom unnecessarily.”
A spokesman for Gov. Ned Lamont said the teachers want the same thing the state wants. He said they are doing whatever they need to do to keep schools open and safe.
An announcement about what schools will receive in terms of support from the state is expected to happen Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz will join Office of Early Childhood Commissioner Beth Bye Tuesday at a New Britain COVID-19 distribution site for masks and rapid at-home tests for licensed childcare providers.
An estimated 4,000 providers will be able to pick up the supplies at one of five regional locations.