HARTFORD - Teachersâ€™ unions on Monday said all Connecticut public schools should switch to full-time remote learning until at least mid-January unless statewide coronavirus safety protocols are established and strictly enforced.
A coalition of unions cited surging COVID-19 infections in the state. They said seven of Connecticut's eight counties have virus levels that require remote learning or a hybrid of in-person and remote learning under state guidance, but many schools continue to hold in-person classes full time.
â€śThe (federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says schools are not the safest place during the pandemic, and in-person learning is a high-risk activity,â€ť said Jeff Leake, president of the Connecticut Education Association. "The state must take steps now to strengthen safety or else move to all distance learning as we brace for this second wave of the virus.â€ť
The unions made a host of recommendations in a new report, including that school districts be more transparent by publicly releasing COVID-19 infection data by school building and the number of staff and students who need to quarantine.
The unions also recommended establishing statewide protocols for the reporting and public notification of positive virus cases, contact tracing, quarantines, social distancing, testing and the availability of personal protective equipment, among many other things.
If the state cannot establish and enforce those protocols, schools should close and switch to remote-only learning after Thanksgiving through Jan. 18, the unions said.
Last week, the state reported a 70% increase in positive virus tests among public and private school students compared with the previous week. Nearly 1,150 students tested positive and nearly 490 educators tested positive, a 49% increase over the previous week. Connecticut has nearly 528,000 public school students and 52,000 educators.
Gov. Ned Lamont and Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona on Monday repeated their previous comments about schools not being a major source of virus transmission. Lamont said the main source continues to be social gatherings.
Lamont said schools have taken a number of precautions including improving ventilation systems, sanitizing classrooms and enforcing mask wearing and social distancing. He also said the state is providing 50,000 to 75,000 rapid virus tests per week for schools and has started a pilot program that puts college students in public schools to alleviate teacher shortages.
Cardona said state officials have been letting local officials make the call on whether to close schools and switch to remote learning, based on the severity of the virus outbreak in their communities.
On Monday, the state reported nearly 5,300 new virus infections and 43 more deaths since Friday. Officials said 875 people were hospitalized, up 27 since Friday. The state also surpassed 3 million total tests performed during the pandemic.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Connecticut has risen over the past two weeks from about 988 new cases per day on Nov. 8 to 1,832 new cases per day on Nov. 22.
Lamont urged volunteers to sign up to help at virus testing sites, nursing homes, hospitals, food distribution events and schools to help with staffing shortages. More information on volunteering is available at www.ct.gov/stepupct .
In other coronavirus news around the state:
Connecticut prison officials said Monday that a new round of coronavirus testing of more than 8,600 inmates found that just under 1% of them were positive, a significantly lower rate than in previous testing.
Officials said 80 inmates tested positive during a third round of mass testing that ran from Oct. 6 to Nov. 13.
The first round of testing from May to June found that 9% of inmates, or 832, were infected. The positivity rate dipped to 3% in the second round of testing from July to September, when 241 prisoners tested positive. Prison officials credited the lower rates to following protocols for mask wearing and cleaning.
Since the pandemic began, nearly 1,750 inmates have tested positive for the virus and eight have died. Prison officials said 126 employees are currently recovering from COVID-19. Just under 9,300 people are detained in 14 state correctional facilities.