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Schools, Masks And the Threat of the Delta Variant

August 05, 2021

The Delta variant has changed a lot of things in Connecticut, but it’s unlikely to alter the anti-mask sentiment of many parents as the new school year approaches with mandatory mask recommendations by both the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state’s current mask mandate extends through Sept. 30. Any updates are expected in the coming days.

“I know it’s a touchy subject,” says Dr. Ulysses Wu, Hartford HealthCare’s System Director of Infection Disease and Chief Epidemiologist. “Somehow, it’s become political. Somehow, it’s  also become a social flashpoint. But the reality is masking for children in schools probably makes sense if they’re not vaccinated.”

Children under 12 years old, which includes elementary school and some middle-school students, are not eligible for the vaccine.

Connecticut has agreed to follow modified protocols recommended by the CDC, among them:

  • Masks indoors for anyone 2 or older who is not fully vaccinated.
  • At least 3 feet of physical distance between students in classrooms.
  • When physical distancing indoors is not possible, other prevention protocols (such as masks) is recommended.
  • Screening and testing.
  • Adequate ventilation.
  • Handwashing and proper respiratory etiquette.
  • Students, teachers and staff should stay home at the first indication of any infectious illness and contact their healthcare provider for testing and care.
  • When sick: getting tested, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation.

Secondary transmission was rare last year in schools that practiced safe distancing. But children are more vulnerable to the highly transmissible Delta variant, with increasing cases across the country. The National Center for Health Statistics reported 3.5 million cases of COVID-19 in children in the United States, with 519 deaths through July 28. Of those deaths, 346 were children 5 to 17 and 173 were 4 or younger.

New Haven County became the state’s first county to reach high transmission levels after 107 new cases in the past seven days, according to this week’s CDC data. Counties with more than 100 cases per 100,000 people or higher than 10 percent positivity rate qualify as high transmission levels. The state’s other seven counties remain at moderate levels, which is 50 to 99 cases per 100,000 people or an 8 percent to 9.9 percent positivity rate. (The CDC categorizes transmission as low, moderate, substantial and high.)

New Haven officials said the city will require face masks in all indoor public spaces Friday as the state’s test positivity climbed to 3.52 percent.

For most infected children, symptoms have been mild: sneezing, coughing, runny nose, headache and fatigue. But an infectious child could spread the virus to more vulnerable adults, particularly those unvaccinated. Health officials fear even more COVID-19 variants, like Delta, as the virus spreads predominantly by the unvaccinated.

“This is the normal behavior of a virus,” says Dr. Virginia Bieluch, Chief of Infectious Diseases at The Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain. “When it copies itself, it makes some errors. And if those errors provide the virus with an advantage, the virus will thrive.”