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Lawmakers hear emotional and contentious testimony on school mask mandate

Gov. Lamont's emergency powers are set to expire on Feb. 15, and he recommends the school mask mandate to expire on Feb. 28.

HARTFORD, Conn. — Following Gov. Ned Lamont's recommendation to end the school mask mandate, some concerned teachers and parents are left wondering, what now?

Masks in schools might not be going away everywhere right away. Two of the state’s biggest school districts, New Haven and Bridgeport have already hinted that masks will stay on regardless of what the governor says. 

RELATED: Connecticut parents have mixed opinions on removing masks in schools

On Tuesday, masks in school were the most talked about topic during a seven-hour virtual public hearing before members of the state legislature. Nearly 400 people signed up to speak, although only about 125 got a turn. The rest were invited to submit written testimony to lawmakers.

Lamont’s announcement comes just mere weeks after the state urgently mobilized more than a million N95 masks to schools. Lamont is now recommending that the school mask mandate ends.

“I think this is something we’ve earned, Connecticut. We’ve earned it,” said Lamont.

Data has shown the omicron curve in schools is falling almost as fast as it rose. Still, nearly 4,000 students and 700 staff tested positive during the most recent week of data. 

“I can’t predict exactly what Feb 28 is going to be, but what I can say is things are going in the right direction,” said Dr. Manisha Juthani, the Commissioner of the CT Department of Public Health.

Those who want the school mask mandate to end, point to a different set of data that shows only seven people under the age of 19 have died of COVID in Connecticut.

“This is no longer an emergency. The real emergency is the mental health of our children,” said Bobbi Stashenko, a parent who commented during the public hearing.

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But others disagree - saying it’s not only about the admittedly low death rate of young people but also the danger that younger, largely unvaccinated children pose to older adults. 

“If masks are eliminated in schools you are making students themselves assassins in their own communities and families,” said Tina Manus.

RELATED: CT COVID-19 Updates: Positivity rate rises to 7.08%; hospitalizations continue downward trend

So what happens now? The power shifts back to lawmakers who will either decide to extend Lamont’s emergency powers, allow cities, towns, and school districts to make their own local decisions, or put individual choices back in the hands of parents. 

“The best local control is putting that voice back to the parents,” said Susan Zabohonski of Families for Freedom.

One thing is for sure, all of those decisions will be controversial. There are important dates to remember. Feb. 15 is when Lamont’s emergency powers are set to expire. And Feb. 28 is when the school mask mandate is set to expire.

Matt Caron is a reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at mcaron@fox61.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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