Fran Rabinowitz and Gov. Ned Lamont outside the state Capitol on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020.
Isabel Orozco, one of the college students to volunteer as a substitute teacher, and Gov. Ned Lamont outside the Capitol on Tuesday, Dec. 1. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

Connecticut’s seven-day rolling average of positive COVID-19 tests edged upward to 4.9% on Tuesday, reversing a downward trend that saw a drop from a peak of 5.8% 11 days ago to 4.7% on Monday, Gov. Ned Lamont said.

Hospitalizations increased by 54 to 1,182, and the death toll increased by 20 to 5,040. The daily positivity rate, a less reliable indicator than the rolling seven-day average, was 5.9% on Tuesday. With a lower positivity rate, Lamont has been looking for the rate of hospitalizations to flatten or at least slow.

“It’s still a little early,” he said. “Obviously, I’d like to see that curve start to bend, just like we saw [in] the positivity rate. It’s a two- or three-week lag. We do tend to think people are spending less time in the hospital, less time in the ICU. We’d like to see some positive news there soon.”

Fifty-nine percent of the state’s 1,000 ICU beds were occupied as of Monday, with one-third being used by COVID-19 patients. Overall, 71% of the state’s 8,000 hospital beds were occupied on Monday, though most hospitals have yet to restrict elective surgery.

Lamont, who recently ended a 14-day quarantine after a senior aide tested positive while remaining asymptomatic, spoke to reporters outside the Capitol at a press conference publicizing a new substitute teacher recruitment program.

Under new rules established by the State Department of Education to help with the Step Up Connecticut volunteer initiative, college students can volunteer or be hired as substitute teachers to staff classrooms while teachers quarantined after a COVID exposure teach remotely.

Jeff Solan, the superintendent of schools in Cheshire, said the 14-day quarantine period has stressed school systems, which typically see teacher absences of two or three days during cold and flu season.

He already has 35 applicants in response to emails sent to Cheshire High School graduates on the day before Thanksgiving. All applicants must undergo a background check and training before supervising a classroom.

“I absolutely believe there are silver linings in COVID, and one of them is all of the people  coming forward to volunteer, to work with our students in the school,” said Fran Rabinowitz, the executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents. “We know how incredibly important it is for our children to be in school right now, our youngest especially.”

Many college students who came home for Thanksgiving will be finishing their first-semester course work remotely, then returning to campus for the second semester.

Two of the students who have volunteered, Isabel Orozco, a freshman at Wellesley College, and Jack Raba, a junior at Wesleyan, said they come from families of educators and were eager to help.

Lamont said he hopes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention follows Europe’s lead and shortens self-quarantine periods from 14 days to seven or 10 days, but the college volunteers will help keep schools open whatever the CDC guidelines.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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