State to keep close eye on Danbury after COVID flare-up

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

Gov. Ned Lamont speaks about a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in Danbury during a press conference outside of Danbury City Hall. -PAUL HUGHES/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

DANBURY — The COVID-19 case counts in the coming days in Danbury will tell city and state officials if a concerning flare-up there has turned into a larger, more alarming outbreak.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and Gov. Ned Lamont urged vigilance Tuesday after state health officials Friday night issued a COVID-19 alert for Danbury following a significant increase in cases in the previous two weeks.

Boughton attributed the spike to domestic and international travel, places of worship that resumed live services, youth sports and family gatherings.

The Fairfield County city on the state’s western border was one of the places where the coronavirus initially spread from New York. The first reported COVID-19 case in Connecticut was a Wilton man who was treated at Danbury Hospital.

“This is not a time to panic, but it’s a time to be cautious, and remember, if we hit this hard here in Danbury, it doesn’t spread beyond; we can continue to make good progress across the state,” Lamont said outside Danbury City Hall.

THE WINDOW OF TIME for heading off a larger outbreak in Danbury and possibly beyond is limited.

“We want to make sure we can slow the spread, and we really only have about a week and a half to do that,” Boughton said. “Once a week and half goes by, if you haven’t taken the right steps, if you haven’t done the right things, it can really be a runaway freight train.”

The mayor outlined some of the measures that the city has taken, including switching Danbury schools to all-remote learning through at least Oct. 1, closing athletic fields, and, shutting down the city boat ramp to Candlewood Lake and securing the closure of the nearby state boat ramp.

He said state and local officials are relying on contact tracing and stepped-up testing at nursing homes and throughout the community to help stop further spread. He said approximately 1,000 people were tested over the past two days, and he urged all city residents to get tested, whether they have symptoms or not.

City officials are also asking people to hold off on family get-togethers and parties with friends.

“We are seeing modest spread among small, family gatherings,” said Kara Prunty, the city’s acting public health director. “We are trying to ask people to stay socially distant if they are going to have a family gathering and limit the amount of the togetherness we have.”

Places of worship are also being encouraged to return to virtual services.

Boughton stressed the public health precautions are only temporary.

“We can pull them back. We intend to pull them back as fast as possible,” he said. “We know people have COVID fatigue. We get it, but at the end of the day we have to make sure our folks are healthy,” he said.

STATE HEALTH OFFICIALS issued the alert Friday after Danbury recorded nearly 180 new COVID-19 cases between Aug. 2 and Aug. 20, compared to 40 new confirmed cases in the previous two-week period.

There were 83 more confirmed and probable cases reported between Friday and Monday, and Boughton reported an increase of 15 cases since Monday.

With Monday’s additions, there have now been roughly 2,475 infections in the city of nearly 85,000, and nearly 96% have been laboratory-confirmed cases of the disease.

Prunty said Danbury has been seeing a rolling average of 22 new daily cases per 100,000 people. That represents an infection rate between 6% and 7%, while statewide it has been approximately 1% for the past six weeks.

Lamont recalled announcing the first confirmed Connecticut case during a March 8 news conference at Danbury Hospital with Boughton.

“It is a little ironic here we are back in Danbury because we have had, it is not a surge, but it is an uptick, and we’re going to come down, down hard, on upticks like this,” he said.

SOME 52,020 COVID-19 CASES have been reported in Connecticut since that March 8 announcement.

The Department of Public Health reported 29 new cases Tuesday out of 4,992 additional test results that were received. Daily statistics reflect newly reported cases, deaths and tests that occurred over the last several days to week.

Public health officials reported three more coronavirus-associated deaths since Monday. There have been 4,663 deaths since an 88-year-old man from Ridgefield died of COVID-19 at Danbury Hospital in mid-March.

There was also a net increase of three patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 between new admissions and discharges to 57 statewide. More than 11,000 people have been hospitalized in the outbreak, and roughly 80% have been discharged.

THE NAUGATUCK VALLEY HEALTH DISTRICT reported Tuesday there have been 417 confirmed coronavirus cases in Naugatuck and 59 in Beacon Falls. There have been 37 confirmed deaths associated with coronavirus and four probable deaths in Naugatuck, according to the health district, and none in Beacon Falls.

As of Aug. 14, the latest data released by the Chesprocott Health District reported, the health district reported there had been 84 cases in Prospect and no coronavirus-related deaths in town.

BOUGHTON, LAMONT and state Rep. David Arconti, D-Danbury, questioned if prolonged power outages due to Tropical Storm Isaias contributed to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

The power disruptions from the Aug. 4 storm left some households without electricity for as long as 10 days. Some neighborhoods in downtown Danbury were without power for a week.

“There is a noticeable uptick in cases within neighborhoods within parts of our city that were without the power the longest,” said Arconti, the House chairman of the Energy and Technology Committee.

Boughton agreed, saying the maps of new COVID-19 cases and power outages closely aligned.

“That is what we have seen here, and that is something we are certainly going to be addressing,” he said.

Arconti said he plans to request statistics from the state Department of Public Health to see if other cities and towns that experienced prolong outages also saw increases in COVID-19 cases.

Lamont said such a statewide analysis is warranted based on the initial indications in Danbury.

“This may be a canary in a coal mine,” he said.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.