Gov. Ned Lamont will end the controversial school mask mandate as of Feb. 28. That includes schools and daycare.
“We now have the tools to keep ourselves safe,” Lamont said during a late afternoon virtual press conference.
He said that means each city and town and local board of education can make the decision for themselves about what’s best for their community.
“We now have the tools to keep ourselves safe,” Lamont said.
He said local control is key, especially when it comes to schools. He said there are schools where teachers might not feel comfortable coming in without a mask mandate.
Public Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani said the case counts are dropping and the positivity rate is dropping. She said putting this decision at the local level works best.
Asked if the state had any data about in-school transmission, Juthani said “no.”
“Because first of all it would be all related to masked settings,” Juthani said. “What we were able to see is that in masked settings we had low transmission.”
She said there’s anecdotal information that transmission rates in schools are low.
“We know from anecdotal experience and we’ve seen even in published data around the country of transmission that has occurred, but again it depends on a lot on the amount of disease that is in the community and of the vaccination rate you have of your population,” Juthani said during a virtual news briefing.
If the state has to reverse course because of a new strain or increasing hospitalizations, Lamont said he would reconsider the decision.
“We’re at a point where we do need some personal responsibility when it comes to knowing how to live with this virus,” Juthani said.
Lamont’s announcement dovetails with a Monday shift by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who set a plan to end the school masking requirement there on March 7.
“Balancing public health with getting back to some semblance of normalcy is not easy,” Murphy tweeted Monday morning. “But we can responsibly take this step due to declining COVID numbers and growth in vaccinations.”
However, in Connecticut, Lamont has asked lawmakers to share responsibility for the state’s ongoing pandemic policies and his newly-announced position on masks comes just two days before the kick-off of the 2022 legislative session and a day before a legislative hearing on the matter.
A House vote on a handful of ongoing pandemic orders was scheduled for Thursday with the Senate taking up the orders on Monday, Feb. 14. But as of Friday, there was no consensus on how to handle masks in schools among the Democrats who control the two branches of the state legislature.
“I would like to see a statewide [mask] policy remain in effect for clarity,” Senate President Martin Looney said Friday.
Looney said legislative leaders were still discussing how they would structure the mask policy in particular. While lawmakers plan to pass a 60 day continuance of most of non-controversial pandemic orders, Looney said they were undecided as of Friday how long the mask requirement should continue.
“There’s some interest in having the school masking issue clarified so that it would apply for the remainder of the school year so we wouldn’t have to revisit it later in the session when we’re busy with other items, mainly the legislation we’re trying to pass for 2022,” Looney said.
Although the policy has been structured so the decision falls on the commissioners of education and public health, Lamont has been under pressure to scrap the requirement from an outspoken group of parents for over a year.
An appeal of a court decision upholding the requirement is currently before the state Supreme Court. The pressure has been more personal at times. Security staff escorted the governor away from a back-to-school discussion in Cheshire last summer when a group of parents shouted the meeting to a halt, some pursuing Lamont back to his vehicle.
Ahead of Lamont’s announcement Monday, Senate Republican leaders issued a statement again calling for public hearings related to school masking requirements as well as other pandemic policies.
“When it comes to issues such as mandating masks in schools these are decisions that should not be made by one person in charge of one branch of government,” Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly and Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said in a joint statement. “We urge the Governor to end his control by executive order and we urge Democratic lawmakers to restore the legislative process.”
Lawmakers have scheduled an informational hearing Tuesday on Zoom regarding the ongoing emergency orders. It will begin at 9 a.m. and will last until 3 p.m. Although the first two hours will be reserved for public officials, some members of the public are expected to testify in the remaining time.