Mask mandate coming to an end for fully vaccinated people

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will no longer be required to wear face masks indoors and outdoors in most places starting May 19.

Gov. Ned Lamont on May 13 announced that he plans to follow newly updated guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on mask wearing.

At this time, more than 1.6 million of the state’s 3.6 million people are fully vaccinated, meaning a person has received one shot of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or the second shot of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

Lamont said state residents who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated will still be required to wear masks indoors for the time being because they are potentially infectious.

“It is just a little more risky for everybody around you,” he said.

The change in CDC recommendations May 13 came as Lamont was preparing to lift most of the state’s remaining coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses May 19, except for certain mask requirements.

The CDC determined that fully vaccinated Americans can safely stop wearing masks inside in most places. The CDC will also no longer recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks outdoors in crowds.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities — large or small — without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

THE CDC’S NEW RECOMMENDATION does not overrule individual state mandates on mask-wearing.

Lamont said he plans to exempt fully vaccinated individuals from having to wear face masks indoors and outdoors in most places May 19 following the change in federal guidance. The new CDC guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters.

Lamont said Connecticut will continue to require unvaccinated individuals wear mask indoors for the foreseeable future.

“I think that is the right thing to do,” he said. “A lot of our stores and restaurants have said it gives their customers comfort.”

On May 1, the governor eased outdoor restrictions on businesses, including a requirement that masks or cloth face coverings be worn when social distancing cannot be observed.

Lamont acknowledged the two sets of indoor rules will create tension with people who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated yet, and parents and guardians of children who will still be required to wear masks, but he said it is unavoidable.

He said he is unsure the tensions can be resolved, but he was hopeful such resentments and issues concerning enforcement can be worked out. He also said he believes the vast majority of people will follow the state and federal guidelines.

Lamont said students in all Connecticut schools will be required to wear masks when inside of any school building throughout the rest of this school year, but he indicated that requirement could be dropped for the upcoming 2021-22 school year if enough children are vaccinated.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CDC this week approved the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 12 to 15 year olds. Moderna is also conducting clinical trials of its vaccine on 12 to 17 year olds. Both Pfizer and Moderna have been cleared to conduct clinical trials on children under 12.

THE NUMBER OF CITIES AND TOWNS on the state’s highest COVID-19 alert status dropped in the last week to the lowest number since last October.

The count of municipalities that had at least 15 cases per 100,000 population on a two-week rolling average dropped from 97 last week to 26, according to the latest weekly report.

State health officials on May 13 reported 471 new cases of COVID-19 out of 29,973 test results reported May 12 for a positive test rate of 1.6%.

There was also a net decline of 21 patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 between new admissions and discharges to 222 statewide, the lowest number since Oct. 21. Overall, there have been 35,504 hospital admissions and 30,712 discharges in the pandemic, according to the Connecticut Hospital Association.

There were an additional seven coronavirus-related deaths. There now have been 8,168 deaths attributed to COVID-19 or complications from the disease.

State health officials reported there have been 3,499 COVID-19 cases in Naugatuck, 937 in Prospect and 567 in Beacon Falls since last March.

There have been 93 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck, six in Beacon Falls and five in Prospect, according to state officials.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.