The state released requirements and guidance Monday for local districts to open schools this fall as COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state fell under 100 for the first time in months.
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The Department of Education released its plan Thursday to bring students to back to school this fall with an option for parents and guardians to keep students home temporarily. The state suggested that distance learning programs could be staffed with teachers who voluntarily identify as “high risk” or have other health concerns and by rehiring retired teachers.
Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said the state education plan leaves many decisions with local school boards, superintendents and school principals.
“We know that one approach is not always best in all communities, so we are listening to how districts consider this and trying to share best practices there to mitigate not only the distance learning and not only making sure that children can learn remotely, but also balancing the responsibilities of teachers who will also have students in front of them,” Cardona said Monday during a virtual news conference with Gov. Ned Lamont.
Schools will have to designate a COVID-19 health and safety compliance liaison, who will answer questions and note concerns from students, parents, teachers and staff.
Much like stores, schools must have markings on the floor to encourage social distancing and space between workstations. The report emphasizes space between teachers and students when face-to-face to reduce droplets that could spread the virus.
As discussed last week, students, teachers and staff will have to wear face coverings when inside school -- with exceptions for underlying medical conditions.
Every school also must meet the Department of Public Health’s cleaning and disinfecting guidance.
School officials and teachers will be required to instruct students on expectations related to COVID-19 precautions and provide soap, paper towels, tissues, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer to older students. The state plan calls for schools to provide a cloth face covering when feasible if a student does not have one.
The plan offers guidance on meals and nutrition, including personal protective equipment for cafeteria workers and possible pickup-only or classroom delivery of food. But the plan allows students access to school meals at home only if they receive meals and snacks as part of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program (SBP), Afterschool Snack Program, and Special Milk Program (SMP).
Meanwhile, 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. The plan recommends school bus monitors to promote distancing, but they are not required.
Trends Continue To Show Downward Turn In Connecticut
The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Connecticut dropped below 100 -- to 99 -- for the first time since March 24, Lamont said Monday. Coronavirus cases in the state increased by 59 to 46,362. Four additional people died from COVID-19, bringing the state’s total to 4,320.
Lamont noted an infection rate of under 1%, with 6,354 more tests reported Monday.
Even with trends improving, Lamont said he is increasingly hesitant to expand indoor dining to more than 50% capacity or allow bars and clubs to reopen later this summer.
Prisons Report 9% Positive Rate
The Department of Correction announced Monday that it concluded the first round of COVID-19 testing of inmates and staff. With 9,504 offenders tested across 14 facilities, there were 832 positive results -- a 9% infection rate. This does not include 510 prisoners who tested positive before the mass testing program ordered by Lamont began.
The testing started May 13 and concluded June 23, according to the DOC. There are three prisoners recovering from coronavirus-related symptoms, the department said.
Of the roughly 6,000 correction employees, 380 have tested positive for the coronavirus. All but three employees had recovered and returned to work as of Monday.
The department says it will continue testing with a second request for inmates who refused earlier.
Christopher Columbus Statue Removed In Hartford
The city of Hartford removed a statue of Christopher Columbus early Monday morning. The statue had stood at the intersection of Lafayette and Washington streets since 1926, according to Mayor Luke Bronin’s office.
Bronin joined officials around the country in reevaluating the legacy of Columbus.
“Even during his own life and by the standards of his own time, Columbus was known and punished for his extraordinary tyranny and brutality, and there are better ways and more worthy heroes to honor the proud heritage and legacy of our Italian American community,” Bronin said in a statement.
The statue was removed from its base on the Columbus Green in Hartford and placed in storage, the mayor’s office said. Bronin said city officials will work with the Italian American community to better represent its history and influence in Greater Hartford.
The early-morning removal of the statue in Hartford was not met with the protests held in New Haven last week when that city removed its Columbus statue from Wooster Square Park.
$33 Million Announced To Help Renters, Homeowners, Landlords
Lamont announced more than $33 million in state and federal funds to aid renters, homeowners and landlords impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state Department of Housing allocated $10 million for a rental assistance program in Connecticut. The program will pay landlords directly on behalf of approved tenant applicants, with a priority on lower-income households that have been denied unemployment.
The Connecticut Housing Finance Authority will administer $5 million for eviction prevention to help renters who were in the process of eviction before the declaration of the COVID-19 public health emergency and $10 million to provide mortgage relief to homeowners whose mortgages are not federally insured.
The funds also include $4 million in rehousing money to pay security deposits and initial rent payments for people who became homeless due to the pandemic. It will be administered by the Department of Housing.
Officials said Monday that keeping residents in housing is key to economic recovery from the pandemic.
“Housing stability is critical to the health and well-being of Connecticut residents, and COVID has had a significant impact on the ability of many of our families to pay the costs of their housing and maintain that stability,” Housing Commissioner Seila Mosquera-Bruno said in a statement.
The program announced Monday also includes $2.5 million in rental assistance for those who are ineligible for emergency assistance through the federal CARES Act, including those who are undocumented. This money will be administered by the Department of Housing.
The Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness will administer $1.8 million in funding for reentry and rehousing assistance for people being released from incarceration.
Housing and immigration activists met outside the Capitol Monday calling for help to improve housing stability in the wake of the pandemic.
Eric Cruz Lopez of the Cancel Rent Coalition said this is especially critical for undocumented immigrants.
“We know that, that is going to continue to happen because not all of them have been able to go back to work yet,” Cruz Lopez said.
Department Of Transportation Reports Less Traffic But More Serious Crashes
Department of Transportation officials Monday told legislators that many roadwork projects are on or ahead of schedule due to less traffic resulting from the early phases of COVID-19 restrictions and closures. But with less traffic came higher speeds and more serious crashes.
DOT Commissioner Joseph J. Giulietti said his department assisted with some horrendous accidents involving speeds that exceeded 85 mph. He told legislators during a virtual legislative appropriations committee meeting Monday that he is open to talking with state police about possibly installing speed-sensing cameras on state highways.
State construction projects are on budget and ahead of schedule in many cases, said Mark Rolfe, Department of Transportation deputy commissioner and chief engineer. Rolfe said the department saw 15% of the typical traffic this spring during COVID-19 business shutdowns.
MDC To Wave Late Fees Until Aug. 1
The Metropolitan District announced it will not charge late fees on residents’ water and sewer bills until Aug. 1. The suspension of late fees under Lamont’s executive order applied to water bills due after April 1 and was set to expire July 1. The MDC will continue to suspend water service shut-offs for nonpayment through Sept. 9 under the statewide moratorium on utility shut-offs.
The MDC serves Bloomfield, East Hartford, Hartford, Newington, Rocky Hill, West Hartford, Wethersfield and Windsor.
Connecticut Public Radio reporter Nicole Leonard contributed to this report.