Local health officials are preparing for the worst as school returns this fall, offering the coronavirus ample opportunity to spread like wildfire.
The state has directed school districts to reopen as they see fit, offering in-person and remote learning opportunities to students. The Central Connecticut Health District serves the towns of Newington, Berlin, Wethersfield and Rocky Hill, and staff is guiding town and school leaders through a safe reopening.
“I think from a public health perspective a distance learning model is the safest, but we want to make sure as they’re planning for other options, we have the opportunity to provide some input and make this as safe as we can,” CCHD Health Director Charles Brown told the Herald-Press Wednesday.
Newington was up to 409 cases of the coronavirus July 28; Berlin had 178 confirmed and probable cases; Wethersfield, 260, and Rocky Hill, 430.
Children comprise less than seven percent of all known covid-19 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although less likely to become infected, kids are also very unlikely to show symptoms. That fact is driving many back-to-school fears.
CCHD staff doesn’t have the ability to see the future; all they can do is prepare communities for anything.
“The clock is ticking on that opening day,” Brown said. “What happens is going to be very dependent upon what the virus is doing and what we’ve done to limit the spread of disease. I think resources are absolutely needed to protect both the students and teachers going back into a physical classroom. We have to be flexible with the environment we’re in. How we adapt to what it does is the important thing to focus on.”
Coughing and sneezing are familiar sounds in school. Both are signs of the common cold, but also covid. The only way to differentiate? A test. How school communities react to this has yet to be seen.
“It’s a real conundrum for us,” Brown said. “I think it is going to put a large strain upon teachers, school nurses and administrators. Everything about this presents a lot of challenges and uncertainty for all the players making the decisions.”
After recent meetings with the CCHD, Newington Town Manager Keith Chapman updated the Town Council on the ongoing situation in town and the region as a whole.
“He can’t stress enough the importance of getting a flu shot this year,” Chapman said, sharing Brown’s advice with councilors. “The combination of flu and covid-19 could push healthcare facilities beyond their capabilities.”
The CCHD is planning its regular flu clinics in a drive-up fashion this fall, instead of bringing residents indoors to administer the flu vaccine.
Newington Town Hall, Community Center, Senior Center and library remain closed until further notice.
Wearing masks while out in public is still the best course of action as we move into the next season, according to Brown, who is still erring on the side of caution but with a sprinkle of optimism.
“I think Connecticut has done a good job with respect to pausing some of the reopening phases shown to be more problematic in other parts of the country,” he said. “I have to commend the administration for that. Overall, I think being cautious is the most prudent course here. We still don’t have the tools in our tool box that are really going to allow us to get back to society as it was at the end of last year. We don’t have a vaccine or a really good treatment and still don’t know a lot about the virus … We don’t know what’s going to cause the bubble in Connecticut to burst.”
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.