One week after Gov. Ned Lamont announced he would give municipal governments the authority to mandate masks inside businesses, five of Connecticut’s most populous cities had taken the step.
As of Wednesday morning, Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, Norwalk, and Stamford had issued orders requiring masks in public places to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus as three Connecticut counties had transmission rates considered high by Centers for Disease Control standards and the rest were deemed substantial.
Bridgeport’s order took effect Wednesday with Mayor Joe Ganim saying it would protect the health of residents and hopefully avoid the closures and capacity limitations experienced by Connecticut businesses last year during the height of the pandemic.
“Bridgeport did this together last year under more uncertain times – we can do this again to protect each other and stop the spread of this virus in our city,” Ganim said in a press release.
As cases climb in Connecticut and elsewhere as the result of the easily-transmissible delta variant, Lamont’s executive order gives town leaders the flexibility to enact restrictions, especially in jurisdictions where vaccination rates have lagged. Some of the municipalities where residents have been slow to take the shot are larger cities. Bridgeport, for instance, had a vaccination rate of around 51% last week. Hartford’s uptake rate was around 47%.
In a press release Thursday, the governor touted Connecticut’s high overall vaccination rate.
“That being said, there are some pockets of the state that are lagging behind others, and some leaders in those areas have requested the option of requiring everyone to wear masks until they can get their vaccination rates higher,” Lamont said.
But that flexibility creates a patchwork of different restrictions across Connecticut and leaves local leaders to defend any mandate against criticisms levied by opponents. That role largely fell to Lamont last year.
The mask requirement in Hartford also took hold Wednesday. And on Tuesday, Mayor Luke Bronin posted a picture to his Twitter account, highlighting the small number of protesters who staked his press conference with signs alleging the mask mandate amounted to tyranny and child abuse. Bronin disputed those claims, saying it was an easy and effective step to slow virus transmission.
On Wednesday, Senate President Martin Looney was serving as acting governor while Lamont was vacationing in Maine and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz was away in New Mexico. In a phone interview, Looney said some town leaders were happy to accept the responsibility of issuing mask requirements when necessary. He said others were not thrilled to be on the hook for the decision.
Although he wasn’t planning to issue any executive orders that would be subject to repeal when Lamont returned, Looney said he would much prefer to see a statewide mask mandate.
“Connecticut is overall such a small state with so many separate municipalities, its borders really are porous,” Looney said. “In some big cities there may be people who go through large stretches of their lives without ever leaving the boundaries of that city — New York, Chicago, Los Angeles — but most people in Connecticut spend a good part of their day in communities outside the one where they live.”
Meanwhile, parents, teachers and school administrators are also awaiting Lamont’s announcement whether he will keep in place a policy requiring all students to wear masks as schools reopen at the end of the month. The governor’s decision is expected sometime in the next week.