New Guidance Suggests Middlesex County Schools on Track for Reopening, While New London County Lags

One week after school districts across the state were required to submit “return to school plans,” outlining in-person, hybrid and remote models of instruction, local school officials have been given guidance by the state for switching between the three plans of schooling.

According to an addendum released on Thursday to the Connecticut Department of Education plan for reopening schools, local school officials are expected to base reopening decisions on “indicators of the spread and prevalence of COVID-19 in the community” and the ability of local schools to cope with the virus, given the the physical and operational constraints of district schools. 

“For the key leading metric for community spread, we recommend using the number of new cases, adjusted for population, and suggest thresholds for differential risk categories.”

According to the new guidelines, the thresholds are as follows:

  • In-person instruction: Fewer than 10 new cases per week per 100,000 people
  • Hybrid instruction: Between 10 and 25 new cases per week per 100,000 people
  • Remote instruction: More than 25 new cases per week per 100,000 people

Between July 23 through July 29th, according to State Department of Health data, there were 7 weekly confirmed new cases in Middlesex County and 12 in New London County per 100,000 people, meaning that at present Middlesex County schools met the threshold for in-person education, while New London County schools were better suited to a hybrid model of education.

The guidance, however, is a recommendation not a mandate, and recommends that schools consider the new case data together with the trend in hospitalizations, test results and measures to control spread within a given school.

“Because the size of Connecticut’s population is relatively small in comparison to many other states, infection and disease rates for many conditions (including COVID-19) can become extremely unstable as statewide statistics are analyzed by smaller geographic areas,” the addendum reads. “Therefore, the Connecticut Department of Public Health recommends analysis of leading and secondary indicators be performed on a weekly basis and be limited by geography to include statewide data and data for each county.”

On Monday, Governor Ned Lamont announced that school districts would be able to start the school year with a hybrid model if the decision was supported by the data. But without the new guidance released three days later, almost all of the 231 school districts across Connecticut were still planning to resume in-person classroom instruction.