As Connecticut braces for a second swell of new COVID-19 cases that may continue into the new year, Gov. Ned Lamont signaled Monday he will avoid the statewide policies he used to contain the first wave.
Lamont reported that the state’s infection numbers held roughly steady through the weekend. Another 2,047 people tested positive for the virus since Friday, bringing the rate of new infections to 2.2% for the weekend and 2.4% for the seven-day average. Hospitalizations continued to rise as 37 people were admitted over the weekend. Another 12 Connecticut residents have died of the virus since Friday.
The steady rise in cases seems likely to continue for at least the next few months. Dr. John Murphy, president and CEO of Nuvance Health, joined Lamont during the virtual press conference. He said the state is in for a tough winter, citing models that suggest the wave of new cases may not peak until mid-January.
“I want to remind everybody, I think this wave – we’re at the beginning of it. We’re not at the end of it. People, as the weather gets colder are less likely to stay outdoors,” Murphy said. “With the holidays coming there is a tendency for people to gather, potentially including out-of-state visitors.”
But even as cases climb, the governor said he is reluctant to issue the kind of statewide public health orders he enacted during the first wave of the pandemic and has slowly eased in the months since.
During the press briefing, the governor largely resisted questions from reporters on what level of infection might trigger a clampdown by the state to contain the virus.
“I can’t give you an absolute failsafe number,” Lamont said, adding that the virus situation may look different from one region of the state to another. “I think we’ve learned over the last eight months is that we really can target our response. So I think it gives us a lot more flexibility than we had back in the spring.”
Lamont praised communities like Norwich and Danbury, where local officials “appropriately took the lead” and transitioned their schools back to remote learning when infection rates spiked there. This month he issued an executive order allowing local leaders of towns with more than 15 positive cases per 100,000 residents to reimpose stricter capacity limits on businesses even as the state as a whole has eased those limits. As of last week, 19 towns were within that range of infection.
The governor said he is hoping local enforcement of the state’s current guidelines will be enough to slow the spread of the virus and keep the economy going. He highlighted public health officials in Fairfield who shut down a local pub, which he said was open as a restaurant but operating like a bar. He said he hoped the incident would serve as a warning for other “bars masquerading as restaurants” throughout the state.
“If this keeps going, you’re going to ruin it for all the restaurants and everybody who is following the protocols really seriously just so we can stay open,” he said.
In general, state officials said they believe Connecticut is better prepared to weather this new surge in cases. Lamont said the state has benefitted from one of the highest rates of mask compliance in the country because people here “know it’s the right thing to do.” Murphy said that compliance likely improves outcomes even for the people who do contract the virus.
“There’s ample evidence now that wearing a mask actually – even if you are going to get sick – it is likely that you get less severely ill because the size of the viral exposure is significantly reduced by wearing a mask,” he said.