Lamont allows local leaders to mandate indoor mask-wearing



HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday signed an executive order that allows municipal leaders to enact mask mandates for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people while inside public places.

This latest order allows municipal leaders to move beyond Lamont’s current edict, which requires only unvaccinated people to wear masks while inside public places. It also requires everyone to wear them in specific settings, such as health care facilities, prisons, day care sites and public and private transit.

“There are some pockets of the state that are lagging behind others and some leaders in those areas have requested the option of requiring everyone to wear masks until they can get their vaccination rates higher,” the Democrat said in a written statement.

Also Thursday, Lamont signed an order that will ultimately enable Dr. Deidre Gifford, the acting public health commissioner, to require all unvaccinated nursing home staff to be tested weekly for COVID-19. This move comes as public health officials plan to visit every nursing home to check on the number of employees who’ve been vaccinated. Federal data show at least 16 facilities in the state have staff vaccination rates below 50%.

Heather Aaron, deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Health, said that verifying the vaccination rates of staff members will become part of the state’s inspection process.

“We have not checked every nursing home specifically for that. And so that is part of something that we’re doing now,” Aaron told The Associated Press. “We’re basically saying that when we come in to do inspections, we’re going to take a look at that also.”

Aaron said state public health officials plan to stress to employees that nursing home residents are vulnerable and that many died during the earlier days of the pandemic because the virus was brought into facilities by staff.

“So if you’re going to come in, there’s a heavy responsibility on you to make sure that you’re safe,” Aaron said. “In the next few weeks, that’s what we’re going to be hammering home, that we have to make sure the nursing home is safe. We cannot go back to where we came from.”

State data released Thursday indicates the vaccination rates as of July 25 among staff ranged from 25% to 100% per facility while the vaccination rate among residents ranged from 57% to 100%, based on information the nursing homes report to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. On average, 72% of staff and 90% of residents are vaccinated statewide, according to the latest report. Meanwhile, state statistics from July 21 to Aug. 3 indicate there were 48 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among nursing home staff. Among residents, there were 51 cases and three deaths.

To date, there has been a total of 8,296 COVID-19-associated deaths in Connecticut, an increase of three since last week. All new positive cases of COVID-19 recorded over the past week stemmed from the delta variant.

Lamont has said his administration is also discussing the possibility of requiring nursing home workers to be vaccinated.

In other coronavirus-related news:

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RISING TRANSMISSION LEVELS

New Haven County has become the first county in Connecticut to be added to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of areas with high COVID-19 community transmission.

That means there are at least 100 COVID-19 cases for every 100,000 residents.

Connecticut’s other seven counties remain classified as areas of “substantial” community transmission, with at least 50 cases per 100,000 residents.

As a result of those transmission rates, the CDC recommends all state residents wear masks indoors.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Public Health announced seven communities — East Hampton, Easton, Hampton, Hartford, Hartland, North Stonington, and Thomaston — have reached the state’s “red zone alert level” for COVID-19 infections. It’s the highest of the state’s four alert levels, indicating case rates over the past two weeks are greater than 15 per 100,000 population.

Last week, four communities — Bozrah, Hartland, Salem, and Sprague — had reached the red zone alert level.

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HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS

The organization that oversees scholastic sports in Connecticut says it has no plans to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for athletes who participate in high school or middle school sports.

Glenn Lungarini, the executive director of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, said the organization will release its guidelines for fall sports in the next couple of weeks that will instead include a recommendation that students be vaccinated.

“We do believe that vaccinations give the best opportunity to play full seasons, limit quarantines and complete postseason play,” he said.

Lungarini said the CIAC has been working closely with the state Department of Public Health on that messaging, issuing a joint statement last month that encourages all eligible athletes to get the shots.

Heather Aaron, the department’s deputy commissioner, said Thursday that officials are recommending that decisions on whether to vaccinate athletes be made at the local level.

“The coach can tell you what he wants,” she said. “This is his team, his game and he’s got to do what he has to protect the team. So we really want that effort to come from the schools themselves, the coaches.”

Aaron said there’s more buy-in if the coaches and schools set the rules because “they made the decision as opposed to a decision being pushed down their throat.”

“The governor does not want to lead by continually just saying you have to,” she said. “We want to come to an understanding as to why we need to ... and that’s what we’re doing.



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