Rosenthal Issues Newtown Mask Mandate After COVID Case Reports Escalate
Utilizing Newtown's CODE Red system Thursday evening, and noting the decision was based on case data, First Selectman Dan Rosenthal issued an indoor masking mandate in the hopes of curtailing the spread of COVID-19 and its highly aggressive delta variant. Newtown has logged nearly 90 new cases over the past three weeks, according to Health District Director Donna Culbert.
Culbert said she is hoping that, along with increased use of face coverings in public buildings, residents will continue to be vigilant about masking up. She is also urging avoiding contact with others, especially if someone is showing any symptoms associated with the novel coronavirus.
"We kind of abandoned social distancing and minimizing exposure to crowds after state restrictions went away earlier this summer and our numbers of people who were vaccinated increased significantly," Culbert told The Newtown Bee August 26.
The local health official said she is concerned that continued widespread contacts in the coming couple of weeks will increase the virus' spreading to others.
"Over the next couple of weeks we're going to see end of summer traveling, Labor Day weekend parties, and families socializing around the beginning of school," Culbert said. "So all I can hope for is these gatherings and parties will not be too big, and that they will occur primarily outdoors. And if you're symptomatic, please don't mix with others."
She confirmed that Newtown is in the state's "Red Zone" for new COVID-19 cases with 16.9 cases per 100,000 as of Thursday. There have been 89 new cases since August 6, 26 the week of August 9; 31 the week of August 16; and 32 this week.
To date, Newtown has logged 2,271 COVID-19 cases that resulted in 67 deaths, however, the last related death occurred months ago.
CODE Red Message
The text of Rosenthal's CODE Red message is as follows:
"Before I begin, my prayers and I am sure all of our prayers are with the families of our American heroes who were tragically killed in Afghanistan today.
"Over the last 18 months I have regularly sought the advice of our Health Director, Donna Culbert, as we worked to guide our community through the pandemic. We are also fortunate to have Dr John Murphy, CEO of Nuvance, as a resident and his help and guidance has been invaluable to me as well.
"Based on their advice, which is based on case data and what are unfortunately increased admissions from the region to Danbury Hospital, I have decided to issue a local indoor mask mandate regardless of vaccination status for all public spaces, including businesses, effective Monday morning pursuant to Governor Lamont’s executive order," the notification continued. "This is not a decision that I take lightly, however it is the one that makes the most sense given current circumstances.
"I think when issuing mandates leaders should also be giving guidance as to what dynamics would need to be present in order to lift them especially because I believe we will be navigating this for a while," Rosenthal related. "In this case, barring something unforeseen, I would expect we would lift it after consecutive weeks of case decline where cases fall below CDC guidance. To put this in perspective, prior to last week's DPH report Newtown was below CDC guidance of 10 cases per 100,000 population for suggesting masks indoors. As of today’s report we are at 16.9.
"In order for that to happen it does come down to us, as wearing masks indoors will do little to change our circumstances if people are not conscientious of other activities, such as travel and large gatherings. Our local businesses have managed through a nightmare and despite that they have still supported our community, as always. Please continue to support them and despite none of us being happy about this, I made this decision and I own it, not them.
"I hope to be in a position to share better news soon," the first selectman concluded. "Thank you and take care."
Litchfield County Upgrade
Rosenthal's decision also came following the Centers for Disease Control placing Litchfield County in the “High Transmission” category of COVID-19. Litchfield is the sixth county in the state to be upgraded to the High Transmission category. New Haven, Hartford, New London, Fairfield and Middlesex Counties also are listed as High Transmission.
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.
According to a late day report from the Associated Press Thursday, the US is projected to see nearly 100,000 more COVID-19 deaths between now and December 1, according to the nation’s most closely watched forecasting model. But health experts say that toll could be cut in half if nearly everyone wore a mask in public spaces.
In other words, what the coronavirus has in store this fall depends on human behavior.
“Behavior is really going to determine if, when and how sustainably the current wave subsides,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium. “We cannot stop delta in its tracks, but we can change our behavior overnight.”
That means doubling down again on masks, limiting social gatherings, staying home when sick and getting vaccinated. “Those things are within our control,” Meyers said.
Deaths are running at over 1,100 a day on average, turning the clock back to mid-March. One influential model, from the University of Washington, projects an additional 98,000 Americans will die by the start of December, for an overall death toll of nearly 730,000.
Editor John Voket can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.