Gov. Ned Lamont left the door open this week to potentially rescind the requirement that Connecticut students wear masks in classrooms before his emergency authority expires later this month.
“I think that’s a real possibility,” Lamont said Tuesday when asked whether he would shift from a statewide mandate to a policy under which local jurisdictions set their own school masking rules.
The governor pointed to the state’s COVID metrics which have been generally declining after a sharp spike in January. On Tuesday the Public Health Department reported the number of patients hospitalized with the coronavirus dropped by 56 to 995. The infection rate climbed modestly to 8.68%.
Lamont said he believed the state was in a better position to manage “mini surges.” He said he planned to keep his eye on the numbers and make a decision about the future of the requirement soon.
“I’m going to wait to take a look at the metrics. I think we see what the trend is going forward,” Lamont said. “I think we’ll have a lot of clarity over the next few days, over the next week. And if the metrics say it’s time for a change, we’ll make a change.”
The question may soon fall to the legislature if Lamont maintains the mask requirement and lawmakers allow his emergency powers to expire on Feb. 15.
The school mask mandate has been one of the more controversial steps the governor has taken to manage spread of the virus. An outspoken group of parents has organized protests and rallies in opposition to the requirement and challenged the rule in a lawsuit. A state court has upheld the governor’s authority to issue the mandate and an appeal is currently before the state Supreme Court.
During a Tuesday press briefing, Dr. Ulysses Wu, Hartford HealthCare’s chief epidemiologist, stressed that masking was an effective way to reduce spread of respiratory viruses like COVID-19. In the absence of a statewide mandate, he said decisions would likely be made based on the “tenor” of local school districts.
“We are still not in a great place at this point,” Wu said. “That’s why I’m not a politician and I can’t make those decisions but from a science standpoint, it certainly makes sense to have masking. When to remove that masking, that remains to be seen at this point.”