Litchfield County joins the rest of CT as ‘substantial’ risk of COVID transmission

As Litchfield County on Tuesday became the last county in the state with “substantial” threats of COVID-19 spread, Gov. Ned Lamont said the extent to which towns and cities may require renewed social distancing and masking regulations will be up to local leaders and business owners.

News of Litchfield County’s status came as new hospitalizations, 17, was as high as any day in nearly four months.

During an unrelated afternoon event in Southington, Lamont was asked if he was considering tougher restrictions.

“I don’t think so,” Lamont said. “The numbers are creeping up. We’re still one of the lowest infections in the country but we’ve gone from half a percent to three percent in just the last six weeks or so. I think we’re going to give a lot of discretion to our mayors and first selectpeople as well. Every town has sort of their own threshold for risk.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday placed Litchfield County with the state’s other seven counties as being at risk of “substantial” spread, up from a “moderate” risk, but still below the rating of high transmission. The CDC upgraded the state’s seven other counties last week.

The designation gained new significance last week when the CDC revised its guidance on masks to recommend all people in areas of “substantial” or “high” virus transmission to wear face coverings indoors. It means there are greater than 50 cases of COVID per 100,000 residents, according to the CDC.

Following the shift in guidance from the CDC, the state Department of Public Health said it was “strongly recommending” all Connecticut residents wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status. Like much of the country, Connecticut has seen a rise in COVID-19 infections in the past few weeks, fueled in part by the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant.

The state on Tuesday reported 165 hospitalizations for COVID, with the single day jump of 17 new patients the highest since April 12. The total patient count was equal to mid-May hospitalizations. The daily infection rate was 277 new cases reported out of 11,253 tests for 2.46 percent positivity. The weekly rate from Wednesday, July 28, was 2,743 new cases out of 96,091 tests, for a 2.8 percent rate.

Lamont said that vaccination rates in the state are rising, fortunately.

Asked for a reaction to New York City’s decision to require proof of vaccinations for gyms and indoor restaurant dining, Lamont, whose emergency powers expire on Sept. 30, said he would not consider a similar action.

“I think, for example, our restaurants have done a really good job,” Lamont said. “They’ve been incredibly careful. No one wants to make sure their customers feel confident and safe more than the restaurant owners, so I am leaving the discretion up to them. Some of them are going to be incredibly strict. Some of them are going to vaccinations only. Some are going to say masks only. Some may be a little more casual.”

Lamont was upbeat, stressing that 80 percent of adults are vaccinated and a growing number of young people are opting for inoculations. He said if counties start moving into the high-risk realm, tougher measures would be called for.

“I myself said ‘make hay while the sun shines,’ you know, two months ago. Get outside, enjoy yourself, I can’t promise how long this very low, low, low infection rate is going to last,” Lamont said. “We looked around the country, and I don’t want to be Arkansas, so we’re going to be careful.”

Lamont said that he has spoken informally to legislative leaders, but wants a clearer path for how the state addresses COVID after Sept. 30.

Among the issues to clarify are masks in schools and possible mandatory vaccinations for state employees. “I don’t have to make all these decisions by myself,” Lamont said. “I’ll take some help.”