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Connecticut provides 620,000 COVID-19 testing to schools that are plagued by student and staff absences

50 thousand tests were created by iHealth Labs, FlowFlex and were earmarked to early child care providers. The 620,000 remaining were divided between public and private K-12 schools.

Lamont announced Tuesday that 1 million test will be eventually delivered to Connecticut schools.

Lamont stated that if there are any symptoms in a classroom we can notify parents and get the children home. "I want our teachers, paras, and educators to know that we have the same tests."

Schools and child-care providers will be allowed to distribute the tests at the discretion of the parents, but many seem reluctant to follow the "first comes, first served" strategy that was used by the municipalities in recent days.

The demand for tests is still higher than the supply at distribution and testing sites across the state. Schools still lack enough tests to meet the needs of every student and staff member.

The state Department of Education recommends that the tests be used to screen students and staff for symptoms, to test students and employees with direct exposure to COVID-19, and to test entire classes of students if multiple students are sick.

Superintendent of Glastonbury Public Schools Dr. Alan Bookman stated that his district limits the availability of tests for symptomatic students.

Bookman stated, "If we find that we have sufficient tests to do so, then the next step would be students living in a household with a member suffering from COVID." "But we want to focus on those who have the symptoms on day one."

Schools will send the tests home with the symptomatic students or call the student's guardian or parent to pick it up from them. Schools cannot test students without consent from their parents or guardians.

Glastonbury schools purchased 2,600 test kits, each with two tests, for students and 860 single tests to help adults.

Hartford Public Schools' buildings and grounds staff received more than 8,100 test kit kits from New Britain's state distribution center. This is one of five Connecticut centers.

According to John Fergus (a spokesperson for the district), those kits will be delivered to Hartford schools starting Wednesday. Families will then be notified about how they will be prioritized.

Superintendent Tom Moore stated that tests have been received in West Hartford and would be available "in coming days."

President Joe Biden's top physician adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said that he expects the omicron variant to surge to its peak in late January.

The demand for testing will likely rise at the same time. According to the state, students and employees who have been exposed to COVID-19 are not required to test again for the next 90 days.

Lamont stated Tuesday that there are not enough tests to test everyone every day. "But, if you have symptoms, you should stay home and test after five days so that you can... get back into the game."

Absences continue to be a problem in schools

This test delivery came as student and staff absences hit new heights Monday with little to no improvement Tuesday.

Fergus stated Monday that approximately 5,200 students in Hartford Public Schools were absent -- a 32.5% absence rate. This is a significant increase over the absence rate of the district in the weeks prior to the holiday break which was hovering at 12-13%.

Fergus pointed out that more children miss school the day after New Year's Day and before Three Kings Day. However, Monday's numbers show a rise in absentees and cases throughout the state.

A spokesperson for the district said that 18% of Milford students were absent Monday. On Monday, 12 percent of students missed school at Glastonbury. Tuesday saw similar numbers.

Staff members are also affected by the crisis: Waterbury Schools saw more than 340 employees stay home for the second consecutive day, according to a spokesperson.

Nearly 500 employees, many of them teachers, were absent from New Haven schools Monday. This is despite the fact that nearly half of the district's bus drivers were called out sick by neighboring communities.

Classes are closed in Ansonia from Friday through Friday, with approximately one-quarter of the staff out.

While not all absences are caused by COVID-19 symptoms or infection, schools clearly feel the brunt of Tuesday's 23.9% daily positivity rate.

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Lamont stated Tuesday that he used to dismiss infection rates as not being a leading indicator. He was referring to his team’s focus on hospitalizations. Because of my workforce, I pay more attention to infection rates now.

Officials from public health maintain that there is still low in-school transmission of COVID-19. Union leaders called Monday on the state to tighten safety protocols, despite the fact that students and staff are being affected by the cases.

They require free testing, temperature screening of students before entry and the mandatory use N95 masks.

Lamont stated Tuesday that "these are good ideas", noting that many protocols were options for schools to follow during the pandemic.

Project COVID DETECT, which provides free weekly testing for students, is still available to schools. Dr. Manisha Jthani, Department of Public Health Commissioner, said so.

Seamus McAvoy can be reached at smcavoy@courant.com

Seamus McAvoy

Seamus McAvoy is a Courant general assignment intern. He is originally from Connecticut and grew up in Washington. After graduating from Northeastern University, he returned to Connecticut for college. He has previously worked in Vermont's largest newsroom VTDigger and at The Boston Globe's sports desk.

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