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Operational Strategies Related To Pandemic Released For 2022-23 School Year



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The Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH), the State Department of Education (CSDE), and the Office of Early Childhood released new guidance for the 2022-23 school year on August 2, which allowed local plans to be finalized.

Following the release of two state strategy documents, Superintendent of Schools Chris Melillo said Newtown has a multi-layered approach planned to mitigate COVID-19 infection transmission rates.

Some strategies utilized last year will continue this year, such as increased outside air filtration and protocols around cleaning and disinfecting, according to Melillo.

Two big changes the superintendent noted are that test kits, per the state, will be available throughout the year.

Another change is, one of the new guidelines says if a student has symptoms, even if they test negative for COVID-19, they shall wear a mask in school. Wearing masks daily is otherwise optional in Newtown public schools.

While Melillo said Newtown’s school nurses are not allowed to test students on school grounds, families can be handed test kits and those tests can be conducted at home.

Vaccination clinics are being planned in town for the whole community in conjunction with Griffin Hospital of Derby, according to Melillo, and those locations and dates will be announced.

“We’ve been following the CDC guidelines, and I think we are in a good place,” Melillo said, adding that the situation around COVID-19 is fluid and the district will address changes to ensure that students are in school and to maintain a healthy environment for hall.

The state-released guidance, called “Launching into Healthy Learning” shared two documents with guidance: “Launching into Healthy Learning Operation Strategies, Fall 2022” and “Launching into Healthy Learning, Fall 2022 Respiratory Disease Prevention Strategies for School, Childcare, and Camps: Continuing forward to support in-person learning and childcare.”

“Since the start of the 2021 school year, we have administered thousands of COVID-19 vaccines to children throughout the state and we have distributed millions of self-test kits — these have all been major game changers in the fight against COVID-19,” said Governor Ned Lamont in a release. “The goal with Launching into Healthy Learning is to maintain in-person learning for our children as much as possible and to keep them healthy and learning all year long.”

“We continue to drive home the message that all the tools are in place to combat this virus. Our toolbox includes vaccines, first and second boosters, Test to Treat locations, therapeutics, self-tests and state-supported testing,” said DPH Commissioner Manisha Juthani, MD, in the release. “Our key strategies for the school year include starting healthy with vaccination, maximizing in-person learning with symptom awareness and at-home testing, and using available prevention tools, primarily the CDC Community Levels Map.”

“As we launch into a new school year, we are working diligently with our partner state agencies and stakeholders to ensure all our students and staff can return to healthy, safe, and enriching in-person learning,” said Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker in the release. “The CSDE is looking forward to providing support to our districts throughout the upcoming school year to ensure uninterrupted student attendance and engagement, ultimately leading to student growth and success!”

One part of the “Launching into Healthy Learning Operation Strategies, Fall 2022” document shared a new “Test-Mask-Go” strategy that Newtown will be using.

As described in the document, the Test-Mask-Go strategy is designed to increase the number of days of in-person learning and care available to children, both to improve the social/emotional/physical well-being of students, staff, and their families and to enhance learning recovery.

The fall and spring allergy seasons combined with New England winters present a challenge for schools, child care, and youth camp facilities, which were advised in previous years to exclude individuals from in-person attendance if they had any of a long list of symptoms associated with COVID-19, the document reads.

Schools, child care programs, and camp operators choosing to utilize a Test-Mask-Go strategy can give children and staff with mild respiratory disease symptoms (e.g., infrequent cough, congestion, runny nose, sore throat, etc.) the option to continue participating in person provided:

*they are fever-free (< 100°F) and feel well enough to participate,

*they do not live with anyone who has had COVID-19 in the past 2 weeks,

*they can wear a mask consistently and correctly (if facility operators require them to do so), and

*they test negative for COVID-19 prior to reporting in person on every day they have symptoms, as well as one final test on the morning their symptoms have completely resolved.

The document continues to outline that individuals who have any respiratory disease symptoms should not use the Test-Mask-Go strategy if:

*they have a fever greater than 100°F or feel feverish (they should not report in person until their fever has resolved for at least 24 hours without the use of medication), and

*they live with a person who recently tested positive for COVID-19 (within the past 2 weeks.

“Instead, these individuals should stay home until their symptoms resolve and test for COVID-19. Anyone testing positive for COVID-19 should complete isolation according to the CDC Q/I Calculator. School, child care, or youth camp administrators or health staff who have questions regarding Test-Mask-Go should contact DPH.EPI@ct.gov,” the document reads.

Education Editor Eliza Hallabeck can be reached at eliza@thebee.com.

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