State puts Prospect on high alert list

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By Paul Hughes and Andreas Yilma, Staff

HARTFORD — State health officials on Thursday put Prospect on the highest COVID-19 alert status because of the rising infection rate in the community.

Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield has until Monday to decide to reimpose stricter state coronavirus-related mandates on businesses, institutions and gatherings.

Waterbury was also added to the list Thursday.

Chatfield said he doesn’t plan to go back to the stricter mandates after speaking with Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary Friday morning.

O’Leary said Thursday he is hesitant to take the reopening of the state’s fifth largest city back a step, but he has some consulting and thinking to do before he makes his decision.

Gov. Ned Lamont last week gave discretion to the municipal chief executives to roll back looser state reopening rules that took effect Oct. 8 if their municipalities have a daily average of 15 or more COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population over a two-week period.

Initially, 11 towns and cities met that threshold, and Waterbury and Prospect were among the eight more that added in the first weekly update issued Thursday. None of the original 11 moved to a lower alert status, and Windham was only one of them to return to the previous set of reopening rules.

Prospect had a case rate of 17.5 cases per 100,000 from Oct. 4 to Oct. 17, Waterbury had a rate of 16.3 per 100,000 over the same two-week time frame.

There are also a number of surrounding towns that averaged 10 to 14 cases, including Bethany, Naugatuck, Middlebury, Watertown and Wolcott. In all, 22 towns and cities fell into this second highest alert status.

Chatfield said there were 11 news cases in town last week and six more this week. There have been 115 cases in Prospect since the start of the pandemic in March.

Chatfield met with Chesprocott Health District Director of Health Maura Esposito and town department heads Friday morning. He said he doesn’t want people to think it’s hundreds of cases.

“Now the people of Prospect and town employees have been very good, but I have to emphasize, social distancing and masks was the message put across with our meeting [Friday] morning,” Chatfield said.

Chatfield said the majority of the new cases are residents who work out of town or attended social gatherings out of town.

“This doesn’t mean we have a huge influx of cases,” he said.

The increasing infection rate in Waterbury is worrying O’Leary, but he noted the two-week average case rate reported Thursday just exceeds the state’s threshold.

“I definitely don’t like the trend we are going toward, but at the same time 16.3 is just borderline,” O’Leary said. “So, I’m going to just learn as much as I can in the next three days, and get as much feedback and input I can, and then make a decision on Monday as to what we are going to do.”

O’Leary said he is concerned about setting back Waterbury businesses, especially restaurants and banquet facilities that just saw capacity limits increase.

“They have been hurt so badly,” he said.