NORWALK, Conn. — All City and Norwalk Public Schools employees are now required to either show proof of vaccination or get tested for COVID-19 weekly.
Thursday’s local announcement was mirrored by one from the State, as Gov. Ned Lamont has ordered that State employees and teachers get vaccinated or be tested weekly.
The moves come as COVID-19 transmission and hospitalizations continue to increase across the state; earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) listed Fairfield County in a high rate of community transmission for the first time, the City news announcement said.
“I believe we must provide a safe workplace for employees. We also must instill confidence in members of the public that our employees who they are in contact with are doing what they can to stay safe,” Mayor Harry Rilling is quoted as saying. “My number one priority has always been the health and safety of our community and employees. This is a proactive step to curb transmission. We have worked so hard and sacrificed so much throughout this pandemic that I do not want us to stumble backward. We have the tools to end this pandemic and we must use them.”
Lamont said the highly contagious delta variant convinced him to order that all state employees, teachers and staff in K-12 schools and day care be vaccinated by Sept. 27, expanding on a previous requirement for nursing homes. The Norwalk announcement did not specify a date.
School reopens Monday, Aug. 30, and the Connecticut State Department of Education has provided direction that all school districts in Connecticut will return to full in-person learning this year, with masks currently required for all staff and students, regardless of vaccine status.
Nearly 60% of Norwalkers aged 12-17 are fully vaccinated, the release said. Children less than 12 years old are not eligible for the vaccine.
“As we welcome students, faculty, and staff back for the new school year, we are all disappointed that COVID-19 continues to impact our lives,” Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella is quoted as saying. “As we return to full in-person learning this year, we are committed to making sure that effective health protocols and strong social emotional supports are in place for our children and staff. We will also continue working with our healthcare partners to provide opportunities for staff and students to get vaccinated against COVID-19. We look forward to a very successful school year.”
“As a union, we don’t decide if there’s a vaccine mandate, or write workplace policies, our employers do; we work with them to ensure they’re as fair as possible,” Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon said Friday. “Vaccinating members of the school community is a vital part of keeping employees, students and their families from exposure to the virus. Masking, distancing, ventilation, testing, and good routine cleaning are additional important mitigation strategies. Dr. Estrella and her team have already reached out to the NFT and established good collaborative practices for working on the vaccine policy. We will continue to meet with them and represent the needs of our members with the shared goal of a stable in-person school year in the safest possible environment.”
Currently, 95% of the country is listed in a substantial or higher transmission rate according to the CDC, the City news release said. Cases in Norwalk are also at the highest levels in more than three months. The vaccine or testing requirement, along with the ongoing indoor mask mandate regardless of vaccine status, are combined efforts to combat the rising spread of COVID-19 and the Delta variant.
Statewide hospitalizations for the virus, a key metric for Lamont, stood at 344 on Thursday, well within the capacity of Connecticut hospitals. But that is nearly a sevenfold increase from two months ago, when the governor said the pandemic seemed to be in its final innings.
“Delta’s thrown us a curve, we have some extra innings to go through,” Lamont said. “But before you say, ‘Oh my god, here we go again,’ I want you to know we are in so much better position as a state and as a country today than we were during that fall flare up and where we were 14, 16 months ago.”
The state reported 23 COVID deaths over the past week, more than double the previous week. There were 10 fatalities over the past two weeks at nursing homes, which were especially hard hit in the first months of the pandemic.
Connecticut Mirror reporters Mark Pazniokas and Kasturi Pananjady contributed to this story.
Updated 1 p.m. Friday: More information.