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State health, economic officials urge 'doubling down' on COVID-19 safety protocols

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As COVID-19 cases rise in eastern Connecticut, the state Department of Economic Community and Development and Department of Health urged local officials, business representatives and community members to “double down” on complying with health protocols to stop the spread of the virus and ensure businesses don’t have to be restricted 

Matthew Carter, state epidemiologist, called the information on case numbers in eastern Connecticut “quite sobering.”

“The entire state is affected, but your part of the state is getting hit especially hard,” he told about 170 people during the virtual discussion held via Zoom on Tuesday evening.

Between Dec. 20 and Jan. 2, New London and Windham Counties had the highest COVID-19 case rate in the state, Deputy State Epidemiologist Lynn Sosa said. New London is ranked fifth and Norwich is ranked eighth in terms of highest case rates in the state.

She pointed to data in the communities of Windham, Norwich and New London that showed that, since October, cases were increasing among all ages, but people aged 30 to 59 represented the highest number of cases.

Tony Sheridan, the president and the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, said that while there’s a light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine, it’s important for people to stay healthy between now and when they get vaccinated.

He urged people to listen to experts and tamp down on the rising cases in eastern Connecticut: “Too many are too sick,” he said. “Too many people have lost their lives and, quite frankly, our economy has been decimated, so the quicker we get this whole pandemic behind us, the better for all of us.”

DECD Commissioner David Lehman acknowledged that “pandemic fatigue is real,” but he told the business community that re-embracing safety protocols and setting the tone with the right messaging is critical to keeping people safe.

He said there’s a light at the end of the tunnel with vaccination efforts in Connecticut, “but we need to get there and we can’t trip ourselves up with more infections, more hospitalizations and deaths."

He said if people don’t re-embrace these protocols and continue to be strict, "there is a risk that businesses are going to be limited and further restricted." But he added that Gov. Ned Lamont has been very clear that he does not want to do that and wants to provide as much certainty to businesses, resisting decisions made by other states, such as three-week pauses in December.

With the rising COVID-19 cases, Lori Mathieu, chief of the Environmental Health and Drinking Water Branch of the DPH, encouraged officials to “double down” on ensuring compliance with health rules and educate businesses about what they need to do — and if needed “double down on enforcement.” Their enforcement “tool box,” includes educating the business and then issuing warnings.

If that doesn’t work, there are also options to issue tickets and then look at temporary closures or pursuing liquor license suspensions. At the end, for egregious and repeated violations, there is also the option to consider a $10,000 penalty.

Tom St. Louis, an epidemiologist with the state Department of Public Health, said the cases are rising because people are getting together in close contact. He said sometimes people are coming together in businesses, in restaurants or big box stores or elsewhere, and often are gathering in small groups to have dinner parties or for other events.

But he said the strategies for preventing the spread of COVID-19 — including mask-wearing, staying away from people outside of your household, practicing good hand hygiene and not attending social gatherings — have been known for a long time. He called on people in eastern Connecticut to work together, not only from both a business standpoint but also from a personal responsibility standpoint, to stop the spread of COVID-19.


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