Spike in COVID-19 cases continues locally, schools not source of spread

Spike in COVID-19 cases continues locally, schools not source of spread

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MERIDEN — The city is seeing a surge in coronavirus cases, prompting a plea from city officials imploring residents to follow public health guidelines.

According to local and state health data, the city has seen an eightfold increase in its rate of COVID-19 infections over a six-week period since late September. 

State Department of Public Health data released Thursday showed the daily rate of new COVID-19 infections in Meriden is now 52.3 cases per 100,000 residents. That rate is nearly double the daily rate reported in the previous week, which had been 28.6 cases per 100,000 residents. Two weeks ago, the city’s reported rate was 12.2 cases per 100,000 residents. Along with the rate increase, the actual number of newly confirmed cases has also increased drastically.

The city reported 436 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases during the two-week period from Oct. 25 to Nov. 7. Contrast that with another stretch of time, Sept. 27 to Oct. 10, when the city saw 53 newly confirmed cases. The average daily rate of infections during that stretch was 6.4 cases per 100,000 residents. 

Officials issued a statement saying those data points are “indicative of an ample surge of COVID-19 cases” in Meriden. “The City is asking all residents to help in reducing the spread of the virus.”

Communities surrounding Meriden have also seen infection rate surges. In Wallingford, the reported rate is now 36.9 cases per 100,000 residents; in Southington, 31; in Cheshire, 21.8.

Red Alert status

Just two weeks into November, figures show the city is likely to record its highest monthly case totals since last May. The city has reported 358 new cases since Nov. 3. In May, the city had reported 414 cases for that entire month. 

The rising cases prompted state health officials to move the city to Red Alert status last week. That status indicates a daily case rate of at least 15 cases per 100,000 residents. Most Connecticut municipalities have now reached that threshold.

Meriden Mayor Kevin Scarpati, reached Friday, said, “We are concerned about the numbers. Our residents should be concerned about our numbers.”

Scarpati pleaded to residents: if you’re sick, stay home. 

“If you’re pending a COVID test, for reasons you believe you’ve been exposed, or are a close contact, stay home. It’s really enforcing and reminding the public about all of the measures we have in place,” he said.  “… if you have a reason to be tested other than a routine test, you need to quarantine, according to the health department and CDC guidelines, for that quarantine period.”

Officials advised those who have been exposed to COVID-19, but received negative test results, to stay home for 14 days due to that exposure. 

Scarpati said there are people who are not adhering to those basic guidelines. “There’s been a lot of contact and a lot of spread,” he said. “It’s leading undoubtedly to more cases.”

Scarpati noted there are several differences between what had been in place last May and what is available now. 

“We know a bit more about COVID-19. Mask mandates are in place. And we have contact tracing information, letting us know where we believe the spread is coming from, which is social gatherings,” he said.

Despite the uptick in cases shown by the latest figures officials have not yet stated they would implement mitigation measures that are more stringent than current state guidelines. 

“It’s really enforcing and reminding the public about all of the measures we currently have in place,” Scarpati said. 

For example, restaurants must shut down indoor dining operations by 9:30 p.m. Officials are also advising residents to either limit or cancel in-person gatherings, which also must end by 9:30 p.m. Rules have also limited the capacities for indoor event venues, theaters and religious gatherings, as well as for personal services.  

Local officials are also urging residents to continue social distancing with non-household members, to wear a mask whenever one leaves their home or if someone from outside their household is visiting, and to frequently handwash.

Schools not the source

Officials previously were concerned that retail spaces and schools could become sources of COVID outbreaks. Through contact tracing, health officials have determined that so far hasn’t been the case.

School Superintendent Mark Benigni, in an email, noted fewer than one percent of Meriden Public Schools students have been identified as having received positive COVID-19 diagnoses. 

Meriden Public Schools data show COVID-19 cases have been connected to most schools. Across all schools, 40 students and nine staff members are currently confirmed as COVID-positive. Meanwhile, 509 students and 48 staff members, identified as close contacts, have been asked to quarantine. 

Maloney and Platt high schools, with 79 and 81 students quarantined because they were identified as having been close contacts to confirmed cases, appeared to be the school buildings most impacted by COVID-19. At Maloney eight students and fewer than six staff members are currently isolating because they have received positive COVID-19 diagnoses. At Platt, seven students and six staff members are similarly isolating.

At this point, officials are not considering a switch to full remote learning.

“Only when health data or health officials recommend it,” Benigni wrote.

“Schools may be one of the safest places for our kids, because they are in cohorts, in their classroom, with limited exposure to others outside of that classroom,” Scarpati said.

Still, officials advised families not to send their children to school if a member of their household tests positive for COVID-19 or if a member of that household is awaiting test results.

In Meriden, city officials will continue to assess whether further restrictions will need to be enacted.

Meriden Health and Human Services Director Lea Crown asked residents to take the latest results “with seriousness.”

“By following the CDC guidelines we are ultimately protecting our community and flattening the curve. We all have the power to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks, washing our hands and practicing social distancing,” Crown said in a statement.

“People just need to go back to the basics,” Scarpati said.  “We’re close to a vaccine, but we’re not there yet. We need to stay vigilant.”


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