MERIDEN — Local officials are closely watching the rise in COVID-19 cases but are holding off on any citywide mask mandates.
“It’s very troubling,” Mayor Kevin Scarpati said about the increase. “We expect to be at a new color this week.”
Scarpati was correct. The state reported Thursday that the city went from level yellow to red.
But as cases climb, hospital officials are also predicting a decline in two to three weeks based on current trends.
Last week, the city reported five to nine cases per 100,000 people, according to the state Department of Public Health. The city’s infection rate was near the state’s average of 3 percent. However, the number of Covid cases jumped to 94 this week
The DPH has determined that 90 percent of new cases are the highly-transmissible delta variant.
There is no hard and fast number to trigger a mask mandate, Scarpati said. Instead, the city has ordered that masks be worn in public buildings, including schools, and is allowing private business owners to decide their own rules for now. It is also working to make vaccinations available to people in underserved communities. More than half the city’s population is vaccinated, and Scarpati hopes that pending Food and Drug Administration approval of the Pfizer BioNTech will increase vaccine participation.
If anything should worsen, the city will revise its directives. Mayors in five other cities, including Hartford and New Haven, have implemented mask mandates.
Health officials are also closely tracking infection rates among the vaccinated and unvaccinated.
“There is definitely an increase,” said Keith Grant, senior system director for Infection Prevention at Hartford HealthCare. “Based on the data, it’s very clear if you are vaccinated you have a much better chance of not needing critical care, the population that is high risk is the older patient.”
Last Thursday, Hartford HealthCare had 52 COVID-19 patients, of those 14 were vaccinated. There were 13 patients in its critical care units, of those two were vaccinated.
Grant expects the numbers to start falling again in several weeks as the risk of potential infections drops. Health experts look at what is known as the R factor or R value, a measure of how many people are being infected by one infected person. An R of 1 means one person will, on average, infect one other person. No matter how low (daily) cases are, if the R value is over 1.0 it signals a wave.
According to Grant, the R factor on July 29 was 1.6. It is now 1.2 and falling.
“If you look at the R factor, we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.