Lamont defends COVID-19 response at Greenwich forum amid protests

FILE - This Tuesday Feb. 16, 2021 file photo, shows Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont receiving his first dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine at The First Cathedral church in Bloomfield, Conn. On Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, state employee union leaders asked Lamont to extend the latest looming deadline for workers to get vaccinated for COVID-19 or else tested. (Brad Horrigan/Hartford Courant via AP, File)

FILE - This Tuesday Feb. 16, 2021 file photo, shows Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont receiving his first dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine at The First Cathedral church in Bloomfield, Conn. On Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, state employee union leaders asked Lamont to extend the latest looming deadline for workers to get vaccinated for COVID-19 or else tested. (Brad Horrigan/Hartford Courant via AP, File)

Brad Horrigan / Associated Press

GREENWICH — Gov. Ned Lamont defended the state’s response to COVID-19 during a church forum on Sunday, which was briefly interrupted by outbursts from audience members who protested ongoing masking and testing requirements.

Lamont spoke to a crowd at Christ Church Greenwich, recapping the early days of the pandemic and highlighting the steps taken by state officials and community members to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“Connecticut was wonderful,” Lamont said. “We were scared out of our minds and people felt that fear. But they all rallied.”

Lamont praised religious organizations for mobilizing community members who were hesitant about testing in the early days of the pandemic. Lamont also credited houses of worship for modeling the precautionary measures recommended by state officials like closing their doors doors to parishioners and getting vaccinated.

Their efforts helped curb Connecticut’s COVID-19 fallout, he said, comparing the state’s case rates to those in New York and New Jersey, which experienced numerous surges.

While at the forum, Lamont acknowledged the work school systems are doing to enforce masking rules, saying he had pushed for schools to return to in-person classes early in the pandemic even as teachers and parents expressed hesitancy.

“I just tried to make the case, one school at a time, that nothing’s more dangerous than not having your kid in school,” Lamont said, adding that mask requirements played the largest role in safely keeping schools open.

But some audience members voiced their displeasure with ongoing mask requirements in schools, accusing Lamont of “torture” during a question-and-answer session with the audience.

“We all know masks don’t work, so why are you putting our children through this emotional torture?” one person said after accusing Lamont of attending events with unmasked people.

“First of all, those kids aren’t vaccinated and they can’t be vaccinated by law,” Lamont responded. “You’re right — other places where we’re going around, we’re trying to follow rules within that community...that’s a big difference than the classroom.”

Another audience member began shouting from the back of the event room, prompting boos from the rest of the audience.

“We got 99 percent, I still got to work on the 1 percent,” Lamont quipped after moderator Marek Zabriskie asked the protesting audience member to leave.

Lamont also noted an increase in tension around vaccination mandates, saying that vaccination rates in adults had exceeded expectations and that there was still time for vaccine-hesitant residents to come around.

Lamont has previously said that who refuse to either get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing will be placed on unpaid leave. The exact number of those employees will be known soon, Lamont said.

“The good news is that about 89 percent of our adults are vaccinated,” Lamont said. “It’s complicated. We’ll know in the next few days whether everybody at the end of the day did the right thing, except for a few outliers.”