Connecticut’s southeastern communities, spared from the initial punch COVID-19 landed on a wide swath of metropolitan New York and Fairfield County, are now at the center of an outbreak that reinforces the persistence of the novel coronavirus.
Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday that the state has nearly tripled from four to 11 the number of communities under an alert status accorded to municipalities with at least 15 cases per 100,000 persons.
Nine of the 11 alert communities are in southeastern Connecticut. The two outliers are Hartford and Danbury, the latter still trying to quell one of the first outbreaks after the state successfully flattened the curve of COVID cases.
The daily positivity rate of COVID tests statewide was 1.3%, a welcome drop after the first back-to-back days of 2% or more since June. The rolling seven-day average remained at 1.6%, and there were only three new hospitalizations.
“It’s bouncing around a little bit. A month ago, we were at 1%. The last couple of days were over 2%. Now we’re at 1.3,” Lamont said.
But the governor and his acting commissioner of public health, Dr. Deidre Gifford, said the big picture was clear and the trend relatively steady: COVID is an increasing threat as the weather cools, driving people indoors where transmission is easiest.
“This virus is extremely contagious, and it’s very easy to catch it,” Gifford said. “So, if you are in an indoor setting with somebody who’s not part of your household bubble, you can catch the virus from them even if they have no symptoms.”
Contact tracing in southeastern Connecticut has found no super-spreader events. Consistent with national trends, the culprits have been small social settings, places where people let down their guard and go without masks.
“The transmission we’re seeing is happening among friends and family and co-workers,” Gifford said. “It’s in settings that people might consider to be benign, because they are small and they are with people that they know.”
Under an executive order recently issued by the governor, the alert status gives municipal officials the option to tighten COVID restrictions. Last week, the state went to phase 3 of reopening, increasing the indoor capacity of restaurants and other venues.
The communities now marked with alert status have three days to decide whether to return to phase 2 restrictions. Lamont said one of the affected communities, Norwich, was moving to distant learning in the public schools.
Lamont said the regional picture indicates that the pressure on Connecticut to remain vigilant will not subside any time soon. The positivity rates for COVD testing are 4% in Massachusetts and 7% in Rhode Island.
The governor also said the state’s travel advisory system might be abandoned, given that three dozen states are now on the list and New England states, including Connecticut, are edging closer to inclusion.
Travelers from states on the advisory list must complete a brief online survey and self-quarantine for 14 days. Violations carry fines as high as $1,000.
“It’ll be a little ironic,” Lamont said, “if we’re on our own quarantine list.”