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Lamont canceling in-person classes for rest of school year

May 5, 2020 GMT
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This May 1, 2020 photo, Sgt. David Blythe accepts a donation from Steve Hall, of Wallingford, Conn., during a food drive to benefit local pantries at the Wallingford Police Dept. (Dave Zajac/Record-Journal via AP)
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This May 1, 2020 photo, Sgt. David Blythe accepts a donation from Steve Hall, of Wallingford, Conn., during a food drive to benefit local pantries at the Wallingford Police Dept. (Dave Zajac/Record-Journal via AP)

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday canceled in-person classes at all Connecticut K-12 public schools for the rest of this school year amid the coronavirus pandemic, requiring districts to continue distance learning for the final weeks.

“It breaks my heart,” Lamont said during his afternoon news briefing. “I wanted to do everything I could to find some way to keep the school year at least partially open, just for a couple of weeks, some sense of conclusion for our students.”

But Lamont said he and his education commissioner heard concerns from school superintendents, parents and teachers about a continuing increase in COVID-19 infections in some parts of Connecticut and determined “this was no time to take that risk” of reopening schools. Lamont’s reopening committee is expected to make recommendations in the coming weeks about summer school, which could open in July.

Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said he also hopes a decision will be made “relatively soon” about when and how schools might reopen in the fall.

“Families need to know what we’re thinking about with regard to reopening schools,” he said. “There’s a level of confidence that we have to make sure we provide for families to feel comfortable sending their children to school. That’s paramount.”

Meanwhile, the state is planning to issue social distancing and safety guidelines for summer camps, which tentatively will be allowed to open June 29.

The state’s largest teachers union, the Connecticut Education Association, praised Lamont’s decision not to reopen schools. The union understands “the emotion and sadness regarding closing schools and missing certain milestones and celebrations” but protecting the health of students and staff should be the top priority, CEA President Jeff Leake said.

Meanwhile, Lamont said efforts are still underway to distribute remote learning resources, including 60,000 Dell laptops and 185,000 Scholastic book packs. They’ve been arriving in waves because of the global supply chain shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

In other developments related to the coronavirus:

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INMATE DEATH

A 74-year-old male has become the state’s sixth inmate to die from complications related to the novel coronavirus. The unnamed man, who was serving a 13-year-sentence for first-degree sexual assault of a child under age 13, was transferred from the Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers to a local hospital for treatment on April 23. He died on Tuesday.

To date, 450 Connecticut offenders have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, while 327 have recovered.

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HOSPITALIZATIONS RISE

The governor noted Tuesday that hospitalizations for COVID-19 “popped up a little bit,” increasing by 36 patients since Monday to a total of 1,500. This comes after the state had a multi-day streak of decreasing hospitalizations, a key metric in deciding which services and businesses to reopen.

“One day is not something to really to focus on, but it’s just to keep in mind that this is by no means behind us,” said Lamont, whose administration plans to soon issue protocols for businesses that will be allowed to start reopening on May 20. “We’re looking at the facts on the ground every day.”

On Monday, dozens of protesters drove by the governor’s residence in Hartford expressing concerns that the continued social distancing rules and closures were an infringement on their rights.

“I was thinking: give me liberty or give me death,” Lamont said, referring to the refrain from some protesters. “We can all be libertarians and you should be free to be dumb if you want to (but) not if it endangers others. And that’s what is so deadly about COVID. You’re not just endangering yourself, but being lax and not taking social distancing seriously, it endangers everyone else.”

As of Tuesday, 2,633 residents have died from complications of COVID-19.

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VOTE BY MAIL

An election reform advocacy group is praising Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s plan to make voting safer amid the pandemic, including providing absentee ballot applications to all eligible voters for the August primary and November general election. Common Cause in Connecticut, however, said there’s “real urgency” for action to be taken by the governor or the General Assembly to allow all voters to vote by mail.

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Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut, said while Merrill’s plan is “an important first step,” an executive order, legislative approval or both are still needed.

Under Merrill’s plan, her office will send an absentee ballot application to all registered voters in Connecticut with pre-paid postage. But at this point, it’s unclear if fears about contracting the coronavirus would be a reason for obtaining an absentee ballot, given the state’s rules for voting by absentee will still remain in place. The only voters who qualify are those actively serving in the U.S. armed forces; those out-of-town for the entire day of voting; those who are ill, have physical disabilities or are forbidden by religious beliefs from voting on that particular day; and those working as a poll worker at another polling location during voting hours.

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