For Wilton' superintendent, first week with no new COVID cases comes with 'a great sense of relief'

WILTON — The school district has reported that it did not have a single new case of coronavirus in a week’s span, from May 10 to May 17.

That statement is not something that the district has been able to say throughout the entire academic year, or as far as Superintendent Kevin Smith can recall.

“I don’t think we have had a week where we have had zero new COVID cases all year, maybe since September, but this has been a goal for us,” Smith said on Tuesday.

Smith sent a notice to the schools community on Monday addressing the latest statistics, and believes the increasing number of vaccinations to be the single biggest ally in achieving fewer coronavirus cases.

“I believe that to be true,” Smith said. “As I listen to state epidemiologists, and to the governor, I do think that (vaccines) have been the major contributor to the decline.”

Smith is encouraged that more vaccinations are being administered daily and hopes that, when younger children become eligible to receive the vaccine, it will only bring down total transmission further.

As for the district, Smith has had to deal with a steady flow of cases since the return to school buildings. In February and March of this year, elementary schools including Cider Mill School accounted for many of the district’s cases. While social distancing guidelines have played their part in slowing the spread in Wilton schools, and Smith said that finally being able to see a zero in the new cases column and report that to district parents and staff is comforting.

“It really does feel like a great sense of relief,” he said. Although the superintendent said the district is “not out of the woods yet,” he said that with more vaccinations, the district will have “more opportunities for people to be together.”

He admitted that while necessary, having safety protocols such as plexiglass separators and keeping children largely isolated from each other isn’t the most conducive to learning for young students.

Although Gov. Ned Lamont recently released guidance stating that the state will no longer mandate fully vaccinated individuals to wear masks indoors, he advised that schools should continue to mask at least until the end of the academic year. For Wilton schools, that last day is June 11.

Smith said they will continue to mask indoors for summer programming, but could not yet commit to any tentative plans for the 2021-22 school year in regards to masking.

He said, however, that having more activities where students are joining together in person is beneficial for their mental health and he would like to do that as safely as possible.

“The mental health piece of that can’t be understated,” Smith said. “When we changed learning models, and kids were in the presence of each other for the first time, many days felt like the first day of school because of that phenomenon.”

Moving forward, Smith aims to keep that number of new positive cases either at zero or as low as possible.

“If circumstances say you can’t get vaccinated, adhere to social distancing measures,” he said. “If we continue those factors, we can continue to see low numbers to none at all.”