Schools Prepare for a Full Reopen as Omicron Sweeps Connecticut


This map from the state of Connecticut shows the average daily rate of new cases of COVID-19 by town during the past two weeks. Red denotes 15 or more recorded cases per 100,000 people living in these community settings. The data was last updated on January 3, 2022.

Katie Reddy, Prospect Staff Writer

As preparation for holiday celebrations were underway, many Fairfield families found themselves once again having to cancel plans due to soaring COVID rates from the new Omicron variant. Connecticut has reached an all time high in test positivity, now at a whopping 20.33%. Many people believe this rate is likely even higher, in light of the PCR tests being in great demand and often difficult to schedule, causing many to rely on equally scarce home tests, which are not factored into this number. Additionally, there are now 510,188 confirmed COVID cases in Connecticut alone. However, hospitalizations remain relatively low in comparison, currently at 1,151, perhaps signaling Omicron’s lower severity compared to previous variants, combined with increased vaccination rates and improving treatments. Still, with so many teachers and students falling sick or quarantined already, tensions are running high as families prepare to return to school this Tuesday.

The State Department of Education and the Lamont administration announced Saturday that they “remain committed to safely reopening Connecticut schools for in-person learning.” While some area school districts will be offering a short-term remote option for students, Fairfield will be requiring students to return in-person at this time. Fairfield Public Schools’ Superintendent, Michael Cummings reasoned that “In-person is where our students learn best and where we can best support their social emotional well-being.” The announcement also introduced new state level policy changes to contact tracing protocol. The district will discontinue contact tracing procedures going forward, instead focusing their efforts on the strategies of vaccination, testing, and mitigation. They will now only quarantine those with symptoms or with an exposure outside of school, and have lowered the number of days required from ten to five. Parents must report to their school administration if their child needs to quarantine. To test out of this requirement, the district will accept negative PCR, antigen, and home tests. 

However, these changes are being met with a mixed response in the community. Some people are concerned with this perceived relaxation of protocol when local numbers are spiking, while others seem resigned to the fact that contact tracing would be nearly impossible to sustain at this point, and that time and resources would be better utilized elsewhere. However, the district continues to assure families that schools have “demonstrated significant success in mitigating the spread of this virus and keeping our schools safe for in-person learning. We will continue to strictly enforce the mitigation measures that have worked so well for us to date, including masking and social distancing.” Despite their reassurances, the question remains as everyone prepares to return to school- will this strategy be enough to combat the highly contagious and transmissible Omicron variant?