Trumbull schools close through Thanksgiving as town goes on ‘red alert’

Superintendent Martin Semmel

Superintendent Martin Semmel

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

TRUMBULL — With COVID-19 cases soaring in town and across the state, Superintendent Martin Semmel notified families that all schools will go remote Monday through at least Thanksgiving.

“I anticipated that we would face significant challenges due to the rise of COVID-19 cases in our state and country,” Semmel wrote in a letter to parents on Friday. “Over the past two weeks, the Trumbull Public Schools staff have been heroic in their efforts to educate our students.”

However, Semmel pointed to Trumbull now being considered a “red alert” town as of Thursday with 29 daily cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period.

Over the weekend, Semmel said he expected there would be more cases reported that would have an impact on schools. He said the district has also been faced with a staff and substitute shortage due to the number of people who have needed to quarantine. Semmel said some of the shortages were due to staff members having children in other districts that have closed.

“In addition to that, when you include staff absences due to cold and flu season, the staff situation has become extremely challenging,” Semmel wrote.

After meeting with an advisory committee that includes representatives from the town Health Department, fire marshal’s office, technology and maintenance departments, plus teachers, administrators and other staff representatives, the group unanimously agreed that all public schools would move to full-time distance learning through at least Nov. 25.

The reopening committee plans to meet weekly to review the state and town health data with a goal to reopen schools “as the COVID cases drop and our staff comes out of quarantine,” Semmel wrote.

Through the winter, Semmel said the schools could close and reopen for in-person learning as cases rise and fall.

“We may flow from distance learning to hybrid and potentially back to full, in-person learning,” he wrote. “This is not an ideal situation for any learner, but we remain committed to the safety and education of all students.”

Town officials weigh options

First Selectman Vicki Tesoro, reached during an afternoon-long online conference with town health and emergency management officials, said town departments would continue to operate as they have been. Town Hall is open by appointment only, except for the town clerk and tax collector. The main library on Quality Street will continue to operate its reduced schedule, with programs and meetings online.

“The positivity rate in town has now reached 6.2 percent,” Tesoro said. “But there is a little bit of a lag between when someone takes the test and when we get the results, so the data is coming in but it’s a little behind.”

The latest test results show that 71 Trumbull residents have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past seven days, including 34 on Nov. 10 and 28 on Nov. 12. In the last two weeks, there have been 111 positive tests, a rate of 7.9 positive cases per day.

For comparison, Trumbull had 111 positive tests between May 22 and Sept. 14, a rate of just under one case per day. The current rate of infection is the highest since March.

Trumbull’s COVID-19 data page shows that the re-emergence of the virus seems to be centered around those in their 30s, with 23 cases confirmed in residents between 30 and 39. The next most frequently infected age groups were 40-49 and 20-29, with 18 each. The curve flattens out as it extends in each direction, with two people from 70-79 and one person over 80, and five people under 10 years old testing positive.

With the holiday season approaching, Tesoro said she and Economic Development Director Rina Bakalar met with state officials, trying to get some flexibility in the Phase 2.1 coronavirus restrictions enacted last week. The new restrictions limited restaurants to 50 percent of capacity and mandated a 10 p.m. closing time for their dining room, and also restricted the number of people at public events, including religious services.

“Our concern is that this would devastate our local restaurants,” Tesoro said. “We at least got the closing time changed from 9:30 to 10 p.m. We wanted 10:30, but at least that’s something.”

The earlier closing time is based on state data that shows eating in restaurants is more likely to spread the virus than other activities. Bars have remained closed, but restaurants with bars can open as long as they are serving food.

“But after a certain hour, a restaurant with a bar becomes a bar, with the increased risk of transmission,” Tesoro said.

A full list of town closings and restrictions is posted on the town website.

Like Semmel, Tesoro said town officials would continue to monitor health data and make necessary changes. For the time being, the best advice remains the same: limit gatherings, practice social distancing, wash your hands and wear a mask in public, she said.

“It’s such a small sacrifice — it’s not even a sacrifice anymore because it’s become second nature to everyone,” she said. “Wear your mask.”