Students can attend CT schools with minor cold symptoms under new COVID guidance

Photo of Alex Putterman
Laiah Collins, 4, left, and Charisma Edwards, 5, right, work with Davetra Richardson (STLS) in a classroom at Chalmers Elementary school in Chicago, Wednesday, July 13, 2022. America's big cities are seeing their schools shrink, with more and more of their schools serving small numbers of students. Those small schools are expensive to run and often still can't offer everything students need (now more than ever), like nurses and music programs. Chicago and New York City are among the places that have spent COVID relief money to keep schools open, prioritizing stability for students and families. But that has come with tradeoffs. And as federal funds dry up and enrollment falls, it may not be enough to prevent districts from closing schools. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Laiah Collins, 4, left, and Charisma Edwards, 5, right, work with Davetra Richardson (STLS) in a classroom at Chalmers Elementary school in Chicago, Wednesday, July 13, 2022. America's big cities are seeing their schools shrink, with more and more of their schools serving small numbers of students. Those small schools are expensive to run and often still can't offer everything students need (now more than ever), like nurses and music programs. Chicago and New York City are among the places that have spent COVID relief money to keep schools open, prioritizing stability for students and families. But that has come with tradeoffs. And as federal funds dry up and enrollment falls, it may not be enough to prevent districts from closing schools. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press

Connecticut parents will be encouraged to send students to school with minor cold symptoms this fall as long as they test negative for COVID-19, top state officials said Tuesday.

Under the new policy, called “test, mask and go,” parents are urged to test their children if they exhibit cold symptoms, then to send them to school in a mask if they test negative. Students who test positive for COVID-19 or show serious symptoms like high fevers should stay home, public health commissioner Dr. Manisha Juthani said Tuesday.

Unlike earlier in the pandemic, when the State Department of Education imposed strict statewide rules, school districts will have the choice whether to adopt the “test, mask and go” guidance. Juthani said the policy represents a relaxation of COVID-19 policy in schools, with the goal of “maximiz[ing] the number of in-school days for any given child,” Juthani said.

“Up until now we’ve been saying if you have any symptoms, stay home,” Juthani said. “But what we’ve learned over these last couple of years is that we have the trifecta when it comes to an infection disease: We have diagnosis, we have treatment and we have prevention.”

Juthani emphasized that masking is not mandatory but is instead an “additional prevention strategy.”

The new guidance comes as Connecticut grapples with an uptick in COVID-19 cases fueled by the BA.5 subvariant, as well as the threat of another surge this fall and winter. As of Monday, Connecticut had reported nearly 5,000 cases over the past week — not counting the likely thousands more recorded on at-home tests — with a positivity rate of 11.3 percent.

Still, officials have argued that the state’s relatively low number of hospitalizations and deaths in recent months indicates a new phase of the pandemic in which transmission is less of a concern.

Charlene Russell-Tucker, the state’s education commissioner, said she was “thrilled” with the new, looser policy regarding COVID in schools.

“It allows families to have action steps they can take in order to make decisions about kids going to school,” Russell-Tucker said. “We’ve learned from everything we know that being in person with our educators, with our school staff and with peers, is the best place for students to be.”

State officials unveiled the new school policy Tuesday with the backing of both the Connecticut Education Association and the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. Kate Dias, a Manchester High School math teacher and president of the CEA, said the coming school year feels different from the previous few.

“As we enter this school year, it’s not with the same level of anxiousness,” she said. “Are we aware and still concerned about some of our indoor air quality issues? Absolutely. Are we anxious a little bit about school staffing? Absolutely. But do we have the same sort of panic about COVID? I don’t think so.

alex.putterman@hearstmediact.com