CT Schools Warned to Prepare for Chance of All-Remote Switch Amid Variant Concerns

The number of confirmed tri-state cases of the UK variant is up to 58 (42 in New York, eight in Connecticut and eight in New Jersey), though experts believe it is much more widespread than reporting suggests

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What to Know

  • One Connecticut superintendent is warning her school district learning may have to move all-remote again come March if a more contagious viral strain becomes increasingly prevalent
  • Eight cases of the U.K. variant have been found in Connecticut so far; New York has reported 42, while New Jersey's count is up to eight, including one fatality; experts believe it's more widespread than that
  • They also wonder if it's behind a recent increase in COVID infections among children; those are up 16 percent (with nearly 377,000 new cases) over the last two weeks, national numbers show

The Connecticut Department of Public Health has warned school districts across the state to be prepared for the possible need to switch to fully remote learning come March because a more contagious viral strain may become more common.

The letter Ridgefield Schools Superintendent Susie Da Silva sent to district faculty and families Wednesday did not identify the strain by name -- there are at least three more transmissible variants concerning U.S. officials right now -- but she is likely referring to the U.K. one.

The CDC said in a report earlier this month the U.K. variant could take over as the predominant strain in America come March -- and more and more states have been identifying cases of it. Detecting the mutation requires exhaustive individual genetic sequencing of thousands of samples, so experts believe the actual number of U.K. variant cases in the U.S. is much higher than reported numbers.

Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Rochelle Walensky provides an update on COVID-19 variants found in the U.S.

As of Thursday, Connecticut had at least eight cases, doubling its count earlier this week. Ridgefield schools haven't even returned elementary students to in-person learning yet. They are scheduled to go back on Monday, given three consecutive weeks of falling infection rates in the community, da Silva wrote.

"The Connecticut Department of Public Health has informed school districts to be prepared for the possibility of full remote learning in March due to the potential of a more infectious variant of the virus becoming prevalent in Connecticut," she added. "It is important to remember that a full return for our elementary schools may still result in remote learning for specific classrooms or school(s) due to in-school exposures." 

According to the Connecticut Post, the state health warning came during a weekly call with school superintendents, where state Epidemiologist Dr. Matt Cartter discussed the latest around the coronavirus variants.

"He included in his comments actions that other countries have taken as a result of the transmission of the variant, and shared that these were among the responses that might be entertained in the U.S. if the U.K. or other variant were to become the predominant strain," a department spokesperson told the paper.

Infection rates among children have been on the rise lately, including nearly 377,000 new cases over the last two-week period, a 16 percent increase. Experts are concerned the increase is connected to the emergence of the U.K. variant -- and while it has proved no more lethal for kids than earlier strains, the heightened transmissibility could lead to a case explosion, with vaccination still in its infancy.

In an interview with LX News, Dr. Anthony Fauci addressed the multiplying mutations of the coronavirus, including a U.K. variant that is thought to be more deadly as well as more contagious. Watch the full interview with Dr. Fauci on NBCLX this Tuesday at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. ET.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has upped the confirmed count to 42 -- a 68 percent increase from his last report on the variant about a week ago. New Jersey confirmed its two cases last week and added another six Wednesday.

Patients range in age from 10 to 65 in New Jersey and one of them died. That person had underlying conditions. Only one of the eight patients in the state had any history of international travel. The others may be due to community spread.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said Wednesday there is reason to be concerned about the impact of some coronavirus mutations on vaccines, but he also said scientists have plenty of options for adjustments to maintain effectiveness. He is more concerned about the South African variant than other strains because lab tests have shown it can lessen vaccine efficacy.

The first U.S. cases of the South African variant were detected in South Carolina this week, the CDC said Thursday. The two cases don't appear to be connected, nor do the patients have a history of recent travel.

Moderna said this week it is working to develop a second booster shot to provide added protection against that South African strain, though it expects its vaccine will prove effective against that one and other variants that have emerged.

A new study suggests that Pfizer/BioNtech's coronavirus vaccine appears to work against new variants that have begun circulating in the U.S. The study has not been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal.
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