A group of excited students pose with their new backpacks containing school supplies, thermometers and new masks at the Hartford Public Schools and Hartford Foundation Back to School Drive. Photo by Defining Studios.
Gov. Ned Lamont says masks are almost certain to be required in schools. CTMIRROR.ORG

This story has been updated.

With infections increasing, Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday he will continue a requirement that K-12 students wear masks in school to combat the spread of COVID-19 to a population that includes many children still ineligible for vaccinations.

“At this point, I don’t see that changing,” Lamont said at a morning event in New Haven. Hours later, he made it official, saying he wants no “ambiguity.”

Vaccines are available and recommended for children 12 and older, but none of the three authorized for use in the U.S. have been cleared for younger children. Pfizer appears closest, saying it may seek approval next month for use of its vaccine in children ages 5 to 11.

More than 80% of adults in Connecticut are fully vaccinated, but the rate is significantly lower for adolescents: 63% for those ages 16-18 and 46% for those 12-15, according to numbers released Tuesday by the Department of Public Health.

The daily positivity rate rose again Tuesday to 4.25%, with 700 new positive cases. An additional 181 positive cases that were identified before Aug. 1 were added to the total today, but those cases are not included in today’s positivity calculation, said Lamont spokesman Max Reiss. Still, today’s positivity rate is the highest single-day rate since April 15, when the rate was 4.4%.

The Biden administration reportedly has decided it will recommend booster shots for adults vaccinated more than eight months ago, but Lamont said there is no protocol yet for how the boosters will be prioritized in Connecticut.

“Right now, I think the CDC is saying ‘If you’re immunocompromised, go and say so, and you can get that extra shot,’” Lamont said. “We’re trying to make that process a little cleaner without intruding on anybody’s privacy. Give us a week on that.”

Connecticut first provided the vaccines for nursing home residents and health-care workers, then based on age cohorts, beginning with people 75 and older, dropping the age requirement in 10-year increments during each phase of the rollout.

The governor spoke to reporters after an event publicizing the expansion of the earned income tax credit, which could benefit 220,000 adults and children. He then left for an event in New Britain to promote vaccinations for high school athletes.

Aside from protection against the virus, vaccinations offer another benefit: Unvaccinated persons, when exposed to COVID-19, are urged to quarantine for 14 days. The vaccinated are not.

It wasn’t until May 10 that the Food and Drug Administration extended its emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 12 to 15.

On Aug. 6, the Lamont administration ordered that workers at nursing homes, residential care homes, assisted living facilities and other long-term care facilities be vaccinated by Sept. 7, or their workplaces would face a $20,000 penalty per day.

He has not ruled out further measures to nudge Connecticut’s vaccination rate higher. Like the other New England states, Connecticut’s COVID vaccination rate is among the highest in the country.

The governor said he is not ready to issue a broader mandate for masks, as some municipal leaders and private businesses have done.

“I don’t think we need to do that on a statewide basis yet,” Lamont said. “I’ve got to think about masks in schools on a statewide basis. That’s different. Those are all kids who are unvaccinated.”

Unlike states where governors have blocked municipalities from more stringent rules, Lamont has welcomed communities and private companies setting mask rules based on local conditions and concerns.

“I think it’s working right now,” Lamont said.

This story has been updated. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that today’s positivity rate had increased to 4.75%. State data that show 881 new cases today include 181 cases from before August 1 that were added to today’s tally. 

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.