Nearly a third of Connecticut’s population now lives in a city or town with “red alert” levels of COVID-19 infection, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday during a press briefing that saw the state’s new infection rate at an alarming 6.1%.
“I look hard to find a silver lining and I can’t find it in these numbers except perhaps the fact that we’ve done a lot of testing,” Lamont said at the outset of his briefing. “That’s the highest rate we’ve had since June 1. Couple that with hospitalizations continuing to creep up and fatalities, there’s no good news in those numbers.”
Since Wednesday, another 12 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized, bringing the state total to 321 and another five residents died as a result of the virus. Thursday’s spike in new cases helped bump the seven-day rolling average to 3.1%.
Meanwhile, the number of towns in the “red alert” range of having more than 15 positive cases per 100,000 residents jumped sharply from 19 to 30. Lamont said those 30 towns represent about 32% of the state’s total population.
The governor said he planned to modify an existing executive order which allows town officials in communities in the red zone to reinstate stricter public health guidelines, capping the number of customers that can be indoors at businesses like restaurants. The new order also will allow towns in the orange range—defined as 10-14 positive cases per 100,000 residents—the same option. There are now 53 communities in the orange range, meaning roughly half of the state’s towns and cities have the option to roll back to Phase 2 of the state’s reopening guidelines.
The governor recommended that any town with the option to impose stricter rules do so.
“My strong recommendation is roll back and send a message. This fire is accelerating. I think most, or some of them will do it. We’ll see. I’ve heard two of our biggest cities have already stepped forward to do this,” he said.
Bridgeport announced it was rolling back to Phase 2 before Lamont’s press conference ended. It’s the second community to do so.
Windham also chose to roll back to Phase 2. The move caps businesses at 50% of their capacity, down from 75%, and limits gatherings to 25 people. It also discontinues the limited opening of indoor performance art centers.
Windham Town Manager Jim Rivers joined the governor remotely for the briefing. Rivers said most of his community was receptive to rolling back the restrictions once local officials communicated their reasoning.
“I think in Windham, we’re strong, we’re tough here. Even businesses that are staring at a freight train here going into winter with no outdoor seating. They’re hurting but they understand we’re trying to keep them open,” he said. “If we don’t do something now we’re going to pay the price later and maybe have to shut them down entirely.”
The governor, who typically tries to deliver bad news with a spin of optimism, seemed to be having a hard time of it Thursday. He referred to the numbers as “a gut punch.”
“I usually can say, ‘Don’t worry, it’s just a one day number’ … Let’s face it: we’ve gone from 1 to 2 to 3. This 6.1, it may be a harbinger of things to come. It’s going to get worse before it gets better but we’re going to weather it together,” he said.
Within hours of the briefing, New Haven, Norwalk and Stamford moved forward with rolling back to Phase 2 precautions with more municipalities expected to follow.