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Newtown First Selectman Dan Rosenthal and Health District Director Donna Culbert are now empowered by a new executive order to initiate a masking mandate, but are not planning to do so.
Both officials told The Newtown Bee just hours after Governor Ned Lamont issued his latest executive order on the issue, and state health officials pegged abutting New Haven County as the state's first to be under a "high transmission" alert as the COVID-19 delta variant continues to accelerate the state's virus positivity rate.
"I am not planning to put a town wide indoor mask mandate in place at this time," Rosenthal told The Newtown Bee shortly after the local Municipal Center opened Friday, August 6.
"I appreciate Governor Lamont’s approach in considering local dynamics with the virus as we move forward," the first selectman added. "Newtown has done well with vaccinations and I believe our residents and businesses will make decisions around mask wearing that best suits them."
Culbert's response was equally succinct.
"We are currently in a time of choices and thoughtful decisions," the health district leader said as she prepared to join a virtual regional public health officials' meeting.
The Newtown Health District serves Newtown, Bridgewater, and Roxbury. And Culbert said she is not yet advising town leaders in any of the three jurisdictions to push a mask-up order yet.
"I regularly communicate with the CEO's of our three District member communities and we will continue to monitor [the situation] closely," Culbert added.
"Things are, of course, fluid and I recommend people stay vigilant as the virus is regrettably ever present," Rosenthal said.
Just after 7 pm Thursday evening, Lamont said he signed an executive order related to the COVID-19 emergency declarations (Executive Order No. 13A) that provides municipal leaders with the option of requiring masks in indoor public places within their respective towns and cities for all individuals, regardless of vaccination status.
Leaders Have Options
Municipal leaders now have the option of moving beyond the minimum requirements in the statewide policy on masks implemented by Governor Lamont in May. The statewide policy, which remains in effect and has not changed, is as follows:
*Unvaccinated people must wear masks while in indoor public places;
*Everyone must wear masks regardless of vaccination status while inside certain settings, such as healthcare facilities, facilities housing vulnerable populations, public and private transit, correctional facilities, schools, and childcare, pursuant to an order from the commissioner of the Department of Public Health;
*Masks are not required outdoors;
*Individuals, regardless of their vaccination status, must wear masks indoors if required in the commissioner’s order for special settings or by a municipality;
*Businesses, private property owners, and state and local government offices may require masks to be worn by everyone inside of their own facilities.
Lamont said he issued this order at the request of municipal leaders who wanted to return to the universal mask requirements that were implemented near the beginning of the pandemic. However, the governor does not believe that universal masking needs to be required on a statewide basis at this time, noting that there are many towns throughout Connecticut that have achieved exceptionally high vaccination rates.
“Connecticut has one of the highest vaccination rates in the entire nation, and for that the residents of our state are to be applauded,” the governor stated in a release. “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. While I continue to strongly advise that everyone wear masks while inside of public locations as recommended by the CDC, I urge everyone to get vaccinated because it’s the best thing you can do to protect yourself from this ongoing virus.”
In preparation for the upcoming school year, the Connecticut Department of Public Health and Connecticut State Department of Education are in the process of reviewing and if necessary, updating statewide policies requiring masks in schools. That updated policy will be released prior to the start of the upcoming school year.
However, it should be noted that until that policy is issued, Lamont’s statewide mask policy and current orders in effect continue to require that everyone wear masks while inside of schools, regardless of their vaccination status.
Executive Order No. 13A also changes the effective date of a new law adopted by the state legislature this summer, requiring it to take effect immediately rather than on its previously scheduled date of October 1, 2021. Section 6 of Public Act 21-185 enables the Connecticut Department of Public Health to require the testing of nursing home staff and residents for an infectious disease during an outbreak at a frequency as determined by the department.
Pursuant to this newly enacted law, Dr Deidre Gifford, who serves as acting commissioner of the department, plans to require that all unvaccinated nursing home staff statewide receive weekly testing for COVID-19.
The latest executive order was issued on the heels of the Centers for Disease Control designating New Haven County in the “High Transmission” category of COVID-19. New Haven is the first county in the state to be upgraded to the High Transmission category — the other seven Connecticut counties are still classified by the CDC as being in the “Substantial Transmission” category.
The High Transmission category — which is the most severe as defined by the CDC — is 100 or more cases per 100,000 people or a positivity rate of 10 percent or higher over the past seven days. The Substantial Transmission category is 50 to 100 cases per 100,000, or a positivity rate between 8 and 10 percent over the past seven days.
Recommended, Not Required
With the ongoing rapid increase in cases of COVID-19 in the state over the last 14 days due to the spread of the delta variant, the Connecticut Department of Public Health strongly recommends that all Connecticut residents over age two years, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, return to wearing masks when in indoor public spaces.
Vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals at high risk for complications from COVID-19, including those with compromised immune systems, diabetes, asthma, other lung diseases, pregnancy or obesity, should also avoid large indoor gatherings that may include a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, the CDC said.
Vaccination remains the most important defense against illness and hospitalization from COVID-19. So-called “vaccine breakthrough” cases have occurred in Connecticut, but they remain rare, and the vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths in Connecticut and around the country are in unvaccinated individuals.
DPH strongly recommends that unvaccinated individuals get vaccinated as soon as possible to help stop the ongoing spread of the delta variant — the most contagious coronavirus mutant so far in the pandemic.
According to a recent report from Yale Medicine, the delta variant is a highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 virus strain, which was first identified in India last December. It swept rapidly through that country and Great Britain before reaching the U.S., where it is now the predominant variant.
The CDC described delta as more transmissible than the common cold and influenza, as well as the viruses that cause smallpox, MERS, SARS, and Ebola — and called it as contagious as chickenpox in an internal document, a copy of which was obtained by and reported on in The New York Times.
The highest spread of cases and severe outcomes is happening in places with low vaccination rates, and virtually all hospitalizations and deaths have been among the unvaccinated, the CDC says. But the CDC released data in July that showed vaccinated people also can transmit Delta, which officials did not believe to be the case with other variants, and which led the agency to make a prompt revision to its masking guidelines.
Researchers suspect that Delta is about 50 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which means the average patient would infect 50 percent more contacts," according to Joanna Drowos, DO, MPH, MBA, associate chair of the Department of Integrated Medical Science, an associate professor of integrated medical science, and a practicing physician at the Marcus Institute for Integrative Health at Florida Atlantic University Medicine, within the Schmidt College of Medicine.
"Alpha itself is an estimated 50 percent more contagious than earlier versions of the virus," Drowos added. "Earlier in the outbreak, under certain conditions, an infected person may have transmitted to two or three people. Now, with the Delta variant, that number could be five to nine, resulting in a greater amount of spread from each infected person.
Editor John Voket can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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