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CT School districts balance reopening with loosening COVID restrictions

The American Rescue Act is bringing $1.1 billion to help Connecticut Schools battle COVID-19.

WETHERSFIELD, Conn. — With teachers vaccinated and schools reopening for in-person learning, the CDC is considering revising social distancing guidelines for schools from 6 feet to 3 feet distance. But would it be as safe?

The American Rescue Act is bringing $1.1 billion to help Connecticut Schools battle COVID-19, so that will help. But districts across the state are trying to balance reopening for in-person learning with a lessening of COVID restrictions.

"With regard to the 6-foot social distance guidance - that is impossible quite frankly to be able to maintain," said Wethersfield School Superintendent Michael Emmett.

In Wethersfield, 85% of the kids pre-k through grade six are fully in person. That means more bodies — and less space between desks. But there is a renewed focus on other mitigation measures. "They include good hand hygiene, ventilation systems that have dampers open to outside air to have a good airflow, and certainly the most important factor we’ve seen thus far is consistent mask compliance," said Emmett.

But there are some fringe groups seeking to eliminate the school mask mandate. Gov. Lamont says masks reduce infection. "I think the mask is one of the reasons," said Gov. Lamont at a recent event.

COVID in Connecticut school is trending lower with 493 student cases and 156 staff cases for the most recent week of reported data.

We’re told space has also been a challenge in the school cafeterias. "We ended up purchasing convertible bench tables so that we could position them where all students were sitting in the same direction. So, we don’t have students eating lunch where they are facing each other," explained Emmett.

And it’s not just within the school walls. Reopening means more crowded buses. Wethersfield is still committed to keeping a seat empty between riders. "Maintaining assigned seats for students as well and then working with our bus contractors to make sure buses are cleaned and sanitized on a regular basis."

The science behind six versus three feet is still out. Although, a study of Massachusetts schools with different physical distancing requirements did not show any significant difference in the COVID rate. Dr. John Schrieber of Connecticut Children’s Hospital said, "I would say I would not be comfortable with three feet if people were unmasked. But with a mask on at three feet it’s probably fine. Now in the community setting. It makes me a little more anxious because when you are in the supermarket, people don’t always wear their mask right."

The supermarket is where we found Lisa Butler. With a daughter in the school system. How does she feel? "I think that as long as the CDC says this is recommended and safe to be 3 feet apart, I feel it’s okay but also I think there has to be some consideration given to the teachers who are in the classroom and how they feel about that requirement," said Butler.

And keep in mind that most teachers are now vaccinated. Wethersfield told me their main problem hasn’t necessarily come from the classroom but rather the athletic fields. In Wethersfield, all grades will be allowed to fully return to in-person learning at the end of the month.

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