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Be glad it's working here

Connecticut hit a small but heartening high point in the COVID-19 pandemic Tuesday when the state marked its first day since mid-March with no new coronavirus-related deaths.

New London County had its own good news: no new cases among residents in nursing homes in Groton, Waterford, New London, Stonington and East Lyme in the week ending June 30.

Even with Tuesday's sad report of five recent fatalities, the numbers have been slowly but steadily improving. That trend increasingly shows evidence that we have benefited from a series of good choices by the state, concerted efforts by health care workers, and a willingness by most residents to follow the rules of social distancing, handwashing, and wearing masks in public.

In truth, everything done to flatten the curve and mitigate the number of fatalities has been a large-scale science experiment. There was no choice but to try out strategies and discover in real time whether they worked. The "control" in this experiment are the unlucky — or unwise — states that went with opening up completely. Unfortunately for them, those who have foregone masks and crowded into bars and otherwise tried to ignore the virus have found in huge numbers that COVID does not ignore them. In self-protection, Connecticut has now got quarantine orders for people coming from 19 states. 

This is not to boast. We have been humbled by this virus and we may well be again. A person who escapes a train wreck or a heart attack with his life knows intimately that it could have gone the other way. Connecticut is, for the moment at least, more like a cancer patient for whom the harsh and difficult treatment is working. Good news, great news — but not a long-term guarantee.

Like a cancer patient, we are glad to buy time. If and when there is a working vaccine that is effective for a majority of people, and if doctors can identify therapies that measurably lessen the effects of the novel coronavirus, we want to be around for long-term recovery. We can hope.

But we cannot let up. Among the many lessons learned about what works and what doesn't is that there are whole categories of people at heightened risk. For them, new strategies are needed. These include the elderly, nursing home patients, and communities of color, particularly in urban — crowded — neighborhoods. They include people with no health insurance who try to wait out the symptoms and nursing home staff, who want a return to the weekly testing that was cut back in mid-June. Advocates for these groups and others want the state to remain prudent and, rather than cutting back, increase testing.

Very soon we will see another new experiment, if and when schools reopen as planned. Despite such strategies as not mingling in the cafeteria and the possibility of staggered attendance times, teachers, students and staff will be trying to accomplish learning without getting sick. Each classroom is apt to have wider than usual spreads in skill levels. Some children had the internet, computer access and/or a parent who could teach. At the other end will be students who had none of those. Add to that the distraction that will come with new procedures and nervousness about being back in a group after months of isolation. Teaching will be the goal, but it won't be the first task.

In the meanwhile, Connecticut residents can continue to model what has worked for this state. Wear masks, don't politicize them. Wash hands. Wash them again. Give children the kind of summer for which summer vacation was invented: playing outside.

Not for nothing is Connecticut called the "land of steady habits." Maybe there is something in our collective Yankee DNA that enables us to walk the line between extremes. We are no longer stuck inside but we are not kidding ourselves that things can go back to normal yet. Our science experiment has been working pretty well. Let's keep it going.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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