Health Director Implores Residents To Increase Diligence As Indoor Gatherings Proliferate
Newtown’s Health District director is joining state and federal health officials in calling for residents and their visitors to increase diligence and invigorate protective practices as small, indoor gatherings are being blamed for an increase in COVID-19 cases.
The latest, stepped-up advisory from Health District Director Donna Culbert comes as Connecticut’s weekly COVID-19 infection rate ticked upward again October 14. On that day, the state recorded its first back-to-back daily rates at or beyond two percent since mid-June, according to Governor Ned Lamont’s administration.
Officials have been blaming increasing numbers, which are spiking in several Connecticut communities and elsewhere, on a combination of factors led by smaller group and family gatherings during which long-promoted protective measures are apparently being relaxed. The onset of colder temperatures is also contributing, as gatherings had been taking place outdoors are now shifting inside.
“The Health District wants to check in with the community,” Culbert said after confirming to The Newtown Bee that local positive cases crept up by three and now stand at 310 since last week’s report.
“We have cases coming in at a lower rate than some surrounding areas,” Culbert acknowledged, crediting local residents and business owners for being “terrifically responsive and [taking] quick action to limit potential spread.
“As a result, our cases have minimally spread,” she said. But as the weather turns colder, the local health official said she is sharing the concern of many colleagues about increasing transmission among those who may have the virus, but are asymptomatic.
“It’s important to keep our guard up, keep your distance, wear your face covering, wash hands,” Culbert said, also stressing, “Stay home when you’re not feeling well.”
Culbert said there are lots of opportunities to enjoy the season and not feel “locked down.”
“It’s about balancing activities and precautions,” she said.
Connecticut last logged back-to-back days at or beyond the two percent threshold on June 14 and 15. After the most recent two reports, the state’s average infection rate for the past week stood at 1.6 percent.
It hovered at or below one percent for much of the summer, but if any good news can be extracted from current data, Connecticut’s positivity rate still remains one of the lowest in the nation.
As of October 13 at 8:30 pm, the total of COVID-19 cases reported among Connecticut residents is 61,861, including 59,384 laboratory-confirmed and 2,477 probable cases. One hundred eighty-eight patients were currently hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 at that time, and 4,537 COVID-19-associated deaths had been recorded, including 45 in Newtown.
The local death count has remained static for at least three weeks.
Lamont, who recently eased pandemic-related restrictions on businesses for a third time since shutdowns began last spring, said he would consider tightening rules again if weekly infection rates approached five percent.
New Executive Orders
On October 13, Lamont signed Executive Order 9G.
That order enacts municipal authorities to revert to the more restrictive pre-October 8 size and capacity limitations and rules for certain businesses and gatherings and permits, under certain conditions, the ability of municipal chief executives in towns and cities that have been identified by the Connecticut Department of Public Health as having a higher infection rate the option of reverting to the previously issued Phase 2 rules.
It followed Executive Order No. 9F, signed on October 8, enacting the following provisions:
*Amendments to size restrictions on certain gatherings: Enacts the previously announced Phase 3 increases in gathering sizes for spiritual, religious, and worship services.
*Extension of drive-in worship services and graduations: Continues the previously enacted provisions regarding drive-in religious and graduation ceremonies through at least November 9.
This week, the Lamont administration also reported 16 more people hospitalized with the coronavirus, bringing the total to 188. That sum has grown by 50 patients over the past week, an average of just more than seven patients per day.
That is the most people Connecticut has had hospitalized with COVID-19 since June 15, when the tally was 201 patients. That’s still well below the peak of 1,949 people hospitalized with the virus on April 21.
Administration officials said just two percent of Connecticut’s hospital beds currently are being used by COVID patients. And hospital beds statewide are only half full — taking into account patients with all types of conditions — leaving significant capacity should the pandemic worsen again.
SNAP Benefits & Travel Advisory
The Connecticut Department of Social Services announced that it will provide $16.2 million in Emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) benefits to nearly half of Connecticut’s SNAP participants on Friday, October 16. These benefits come in addition to the $119.6 million in emergency benefits disbursed in April, May, June, July, August, and September.
Authorized by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, the extra food benefits will go to approximately 105,000 households not currently receiving the maximum benefits allowed for their household size. This means that all households enrolled in SNAP will receive the maximum food benefit allowable for their household size, even if they are not usually eligible for the maximum benefit.
For additional information about SNAP, visit ct.gov/snap.
The regional travel advisory between Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York that directs incoming travelers from states with a significant community spread of COVID-19 to self-quarantine for a 14-day period was updated today: Michigan, Ohio, and Virginia have been added to the list of impacted locations that meet the metrics to qualify, and no states or territories were removed from the list this week.
The requirement to quarantine applies to any person traveling into Connecticut from a state with a positive case rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents, or higher than a ten percent test positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average. It also applies to any person arriving into Connecticut from a country for which the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a Level 3 Travel Health Notice.
Anyone arriving to Connecticut from any of the impacted locations is required to fill out a travel health form upon their arrival. The form can be filled out online at ct.gov/travelform.
CTMirror content by Keith M. Phaneuf is included in this report.