A facemask, pencil and notebook
(CTNewsJunkie File Photo)

Connecticut hit an important milestone in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic Monday as students in most towns were given the option of attending school without masks for the first time since schools reopened for in-person learning. 

With the state’s coronavirus metrics continuing to decline, Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration relaxed a statewide mandate requiring all students and school staff to wear masks and left the sometimes-controversial mitigation policy in the hands of local boards of education. 

As a result, students encountered varying policies as the children went to school Monday with districts in most rural and suburban communities adopting mask-optional policies while boards in many of the most populous cities have opted to keep the requirement in place. 

At an unrelated event Monday in New Haven, Lamont said he saw no issue with communities like New Haven choosing to continue their requirement if it made parents and teachers feel safer.

“I think we got it about right,” Lamont said. “Let the local superintendents, working together with parents and teachers, make the choice.” 

Under a bill passed by the legislature earlier this month, the state education commissioner retains the authority to reinstate a statewide requirement if Connecticut’s COVID situation worsens. However, on Monday, the virus situation continued to improve. Over the weekend, the number of people hospitalized with COVID dropped by 47 to 188, its lowest point since August. Meanwhile, the state infection rate stood at 2.58%. 

The flexibility in state classrooms comes just a few days after the federal Centers for Disease Control released new guidelines which no longer recommend masking in public in most of Connecticut. 

Under the agency’s new COVID-19 Community Levels, seven of Connecticut’s eight counties are considered low-risk. As of Thursday, Middlesex County was considered high risk, meaning people with conditions making them vulnerable to the virus should discuss masking precautions with their health care providers.

“It’s important to note that residents who are more comfortable wearing a mask should continue to do so if they wish. People with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 also should wear a mask,” Public Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani said in a statement. “Today’s CDC updates show just how far we have come since the early days of the pandemic.”