COVID surge makes Lamont consider rolling back reopening

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

Beacon Falls, Naugatuck and Prospect in ‘orange alert’

HARTFORD — The resurging COVID-19 outbreak has Gov. Ned Lamont thinking of rolling back Connecticut’s reopening after a daily positive test rate of 6.1% was reported Thursday.

For the time being, Lamont said he is deferring to local decision-making rather than taking statewide action, but he also indicated this could change soon if community spread keeps trending up.

Another 11 cities and towns on Thursday were placed on the highest COVID-19 alert status that allows municipalities to revert to stricter coronavirus-related mandates that applied before Oct. 8.

In all, there are now 30 so-called “red alert” communities that have averaged 15 daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population over a two-week period, including Waterbury, Watertown, Wolcott and Middlebury.

Lamont announced Thursday that he is also extending discretion to roll back the Oct. 8 reopening rules to chief executives of cities and towns that have been placed on the second highest alert status for averaging 10 to 14 daily cases per 100,000 population.

There were 53 municipalities in this “orange alert” category based the rolling two-week average from Oct. 11 to Oct. 24, including Prospect, Naugatuck and Beacon Falls.

Lamont said the 83 towns and cities on red and orange alert represent nearly half of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities and nearly 70% of the state’s population.

Local leaders have until Monday to inform the state Department of Economic and Community if they plan to return to the old limits on businesses, institutions and gatherings that applied during the state’s second reopening phase from June 17 to Oct. 7.

Lamont is strongly recommending towns and cities on red and orange alert to return to the reopening rules in effect on Oct. 7.

Few towns and cities are taking that step. The town of Windham was the only one in the last two weeks to do so.

Prospect was downgraded to orange alert on Thursday. Mayor Robert J. Chatfield last week decided against reimposing the previous reopening rules, and he indicated that he was sticking with that decision.

Chatfield said all town buildings will remain closed to the public, which has been the case since March.

“We’re going to keep everything the same for now,” Chatfield said, urging Prospect residents to continue following health protocols, including wearing masks.

Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said officials will evaluate whether to roll back on the reopening phases as more data comes in.

“We look at the data every day and we reevaluate on a weekly basis,” Hess said. “Two week averages are a better indicator than one-day totals. Our next two-week period is next week.”

Beacon Falls First Selectman Gerard Smith said officials wrestled over whether to go back to stricter restrictions but ultimately decided to with phase 3 reopening due to the town just recently moving to orange and the town’s low total case count since March.

“There are no intentions to impose (stricter) restrictions,” Smith said. “As long as we continue to practice the CDC guidelines, I think Beacon Falls will be OK.”

A somber Lamont reported the daily rate of positive COVID-19 tests jumped from 3.4% on Tuesday to 6.1% on Wednesday, a level not seen since June 1.

There were 1,319 new cases out of 21,739 tests reported to the state Department of Public Health. There now have been 70,446 cases of COVID-19 since early March.

“It is not a fluke,” Lamont said during a news briefing Thursday afternoon. “I wish I could tell you 6.1 is so much more than anything we have seen, and I’m not alarmist, we are going to come down from that number, it is a one-day number, but I think the trend line is clear. The trend line in our state is clear, and in our region is clear, and in our country is clear.”

Lamont said he remains disinclined to take Connecticut’s reopening back a step, but he could not rule out the possibility if the viral outbreak continues to worsen.

State health officials on Thursday reported a net increase of a dozen patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 to 321 statewide. There now have been nearly 13,500 hospitalizations.

Coronavirus-associated deaths are also continuing to creep up. There were five more fatalities reported Thursday. This brought the death toll to 4,609.

The Naugatuck Valley Health District reported Thursday there have been 526 cases in Naugatuck — four more from Wednesday — since March. There have been 69 cases in Beacon Falls, which didn’t change from Wednesday, according to the health district.

There were no new deaths reported. There have been 41 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck and none in Beacon Falls, according to health officials.

The Chesprocott Health District reported there had been 129 cases in Prospect as of Wednesday, an increase of 10 from Oct. 23. There have been no coronavirus-associated deaths in Prospect, according to the health district.

Elio Gugliotti and Andreas Yilma contributed to this report.