Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan called it a “blip on the radar.”
The recent spike in cases of COVID-19 at Cheshire High School, traced back to gatherings during the District’s most recent spring break, accounted for not only several positive tests but also numerous students being required to quarantine due to “close contact” protocols. It serves as a reminder that the virus isn’t done with the community just yet, and that, as local officials have continued to insist, diligence is still required.
As Solan pointed out, the steps taken by the District to make sure that schools maintain the many safety protocols in place have allowed for in-person instruction to continue throughout the course of this school year, even when spikes in cases have been noticed and quarantines have been required. We agree with Solan that, by the numbers, schools remain some of the safest places to be during this pandemic, as it seems the mitigation measures taken makes them less likely to become major vectors of transmission.
Yet, what the spike in cases at CHS shows is that, more than a year into this pandemic, people are returning to their pre-pandemic behaviors. And while it is prudent for local officials to continue advising and encouraging residents to wear masks, social distance, maintain vigorous hygiene standards, and use all the other mitigation techniques that have been in practice since the pandemic began more than a year ago, the overriding message should be this: Get your vaccine.
And to do so, the Town might think about taking a page out of the state’s playbook and look for ways to incentivize people to do just that.
Beginning this Saturday, Connecticut will begin to reopen. Yes, that process started some time ago, but because of realities on the ground, it’s been a year of starts and stops when it comes to easing COVID-19 protocols. In May, however, it appears the state is ready to essentially put aside almost all mitigation requirements and allow people to return to a relative state of normalcy.
Barring anything unforeseen happening, the state will lift all restrictions, except for indoor mask mandates, by May 19.
Connecticut, in comparison to some of its neighbors, continues to be in an enviable position regarding the pandemic. Case positivity rates have consistently stayed under 3% for more than a week and the number of patients hospitalized for COVID had, as of earlier this week, also been declining. And while state residents deserve credit for continuing to be cautious and adhere to safety protocols, all the evidence points to vaccines being responsible for the rather rapid decline of the pandemic over the last several months.
With every adult 16 years of age and older now eligible to get their shots, and with what seems to be ample opportunity to schedule appointments at vaccine sites all around the state, the issue now is not availability, but hesitancy.
The state announced that, between May 19 and 30, those who show their vaccine cards at a local restaurant will be due a free drink. It’s a small incentive, and one would expect that others will be coming down the line. Cheshire might consider doing something similar.
The Town could perhaps work with local businesses to come up with similar offerings, or provide some of its own to entice people to get their shots. No, the promise of a free drink isn’t likely to convince thousands of hesitant residents to change their minds, but every small nudge can help.
Whether we call it the “new normal” or just normal, people are slowly returning to it. Mask wearing, social distancing and the like continue to help make that as safe a transition as possible, but the only way to really ensure our trip back to “normal” is safe is through vaccinations.
That should be the message from local officials, shouted every day and all day until the pandemic is behind us.