The school year may have just ended, but plans are taking shape for the return of students inside schools this fall. Gov. Ned Lamont announced the plans Thursday, noting that several COVID-19 trends are holding steady in Connecticut while the virus continues to spread in other parts of the country.
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The plan calls for the fall return of all students who do not have underlying concerns to in-person classes at state public schools -- with a list of COVID-19 safety protocols.
“While we are in a health pandemic, we are also in an educational emergency,” said Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona.
Students, teachers and staff must wear face coverings when they return to school -- with exemptions for medical issues. Students from kindergarten through eighth grade will be encouraged to stay in specific groups to promote contact tracing. School buses will run at full capacity if state COVID-19 numbers continue to trend downward. The state says it may reduce bus capacity and enforce social distancing if it finds there is a moderate spread of the virus.
There were 81 additional cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut reported Thursday after 6,576 more tests in the last day, according to state health data. There were two more COVID-19 hospitalizations, bringing the state’s total to 122. The death toll increased by 11 to 4,298.
The daily count of confirmed cases across the U.S. stands near the peak reached during late April. According to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University, the 34,500 national COVID-19 cases reported Wednesday were slightly fewer than the day before but still close to the U.S. daily high of 36,400 from April.
Earlier in the day, Lamont visited Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks to promote new signs around the airport urging travelers coming from high-infection states to self-quarantine for two weeks.
Visitors coming from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Utah need to self-quarantine.
”Your cooperation is expected,” the signs say. Travelers are urged to check the governor’s website for quarantine guidelines.
State ConnectiCorps Program Announced To Help Nonprofits
Lamont was joined by nonprofit leaders Thursday at Foodshare in Bloomfield to announce the ConnectiCorps program, an initiative designed to match young people with jobs to support food security, housing and anti-poverty assistance organizations.
A grant from the Hartford Foundation's COVID-19 Response Fund and state and federal AmeriCorps grants will fund the program. No state money is involved in the $800,000 effort. Rather, it will be funded with $450,000 from the federal government and $200,000 from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. The remaining $150,000 will come from other charitable sources.
Sixty to 80 part-time members of ConnectiCorps, who will receive a stipend, will work at 20 nonprofits in Connecticut, according to the governor’s office. They’ll provide up to 90,000 hours of service.
Participants will also be eligible for money to pay tuition or repay student loans, the governor’s office said.
Serve Connecticut, part of the Office of Higher Education, and the Connecticut Community Nonprofit Alliance will run the ConnectiCorps program and organize participants.
“The model proposed by the Alliance has the makings of becoming a national ‘how-to’ manual on building and sustaining volunteer capacity through any unexpected crisis,” Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of Serve Connecticut, said in a statement. “Serve Connecticut is thrilled to be at the forefront of this effort.”
First Round Of Travelers Championship Without Fans
The first round of the Travelers Championship teed off at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell Thursday without fans in attendance. Golfers said the event, which typically draws more than 200,000 spectators over the week, felt different.
Abraham Ancer hit the first hole-in-one of his PGA Tour career on Thursday morning, but he said his celebration was muted.
“It was very anticlimactic because there was nobody out there and we couldn't high-five or anything, but still, it was awesome to have my first PGA Tour ace,” Ancer said, according to the PGA’s media center.
Five golfers withdrew from the Travelers Championship due to concerns over COVID-19.
Tournament officials boasted that nine of the top 10 golfers on the PGA Tour had made the trip to Cromwell, but Brooks Koepka, No. 4, and Webb Simpson, No. 5, officially withdrew voluntarily on Wednesday. Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott, tested positive for COVID-19 this week, and a family member of Simpson’s tested positive.
Koepka’s brother, Chase, also voluntarily withdrew after just winning a spot in the tournament Monday through a qualifying event in Avon.
Earlier this week, PGA Tour Pro Cameron Champ announced his withdrawal after he tested positive for the coronavirus.
Graeme McDowell withdrew from the tournament after his caddie, Ken Comboy, tested positive.
Union Workers Walk Off The Job At Darien Service Plaza
The 32BJ SEIU labor union organized a walkout of employees at the McDonald's at the Darien Service Plaza off I-95 after the union said two employees at the restaurant contracted the coronavirus. The union is asking the restaurant to rehire seven employees laid off at the start of the pandemic, provide sick pay for employees with confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 through quarantine and properly clean and disinfect the restaurant.
Project Service LLC, which operates the restaurant, said it has followed Lamont’s “Safe Store” rules and disinfected the restaurant in accordance with state guidelines, according to a statement sent to Connecticut Public Radio.
State Rep. Matt Blumenthal (D-Darien) was among the officials who addressed workers Thursday in the parking lot of the service plaza. “We shouldn’t just thank essential workers,” Blumenthal said. “We have to pay them and respect them, including respecting their right to organize.”
Virtual Roundtable On Resources For Seniors During COVID-19 Pandemic
Panelists on a virtual roundtable moderated by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz Thursday emphasized the importance of maintaining COVID-19 guidelines while also addressing social isolation of seniors during the pandemic.
Stay Home, Stay Safe protocols are still in place for residents over 65 years old, said Amy Porter, commissioner of the Department of Aging and Disability Services. She said she urges maintaining social distancing, washing hands and wearing masks for seniors and those around them.
The AARP of Connecticut agreed. “Maintaining all the appropriate protocols are important for everyone,” said John Erlingheuser, advocacy director at AARP.
Seniors in nursing and assisted living facilities continue to be an area of focus for state officials, said Mairead Painter, the state ombudsman for long-term care.
“It’s difficult to balance infectious control with social/emotional needs,” she said.
Painter encouraged families to join her weekly Facebook Live discussions and Q&A session. She said state nursing homes are slowly reopening along with the phased return of businesses in the state, citing the possibility of outdoor family visits with residents.
Some Residential Students To Return To UConn Two Weeks Early
Students who plan to live on campus at UConn in Storrs will have to return two weeks early, before classes begin.
UConn officials said students will be brought back to campus on Aug. 14, tested for COVID-19 and placed in a modified quarantine before classes start Aug. 31. The school says it will have about 70% of its normal capacity for housing, with priority given to students who live farthest from campus, first-year students and others with special needs.
Information from the Associated Press is included in this report.