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Grim reminders we are still in the thick of it

“We had a pretty good summer, but September has been very scary,” Connie Fields told The Day.

Scary, too, has been the start of October.

With her comment, Fields, the president of the union representing support staff at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, was addressing news that nine support staff workers at L+M have tested positive for COVID-19 since Sept. 11.

But she could have been speaking for all of us.

Summer seemed to bring some sense of normalcy. People were able to enjoy themselves outdoors. Restaurants opened to outside dining and, later, to limited inside service. Students returned to school in late August and early September, some to full-time learning, most to a hybrid model that has had them spending some days each week learning from home, some days in school.

With mask wearing and social distancing, Connecticut’s long record of keeping the infection rate law continued. But not any longer.

By week’s end the data showed infection rates were trending up statewide and eastern Connecticut saw some of the most alarming numbers. The state Department of Public Health issued a COVID-19 alert for the city of Norwich, where drive-thru mobile testing at The William W. Backus Hospital showed a positive infection rate approaching 10%, about 10 times what health officials would like to see.

Norwich Public Schools and the Norwich Free Academy, which had been operating hybrid schedules, returned to all-remote learning that will continue at least through mid-October.

Yet another nursing home, Harrington Court in Colchester, was cited by the state for multiple infection control deficiencies after, as of Thursday, 46 residents and 11 staff had tested positive for COVID-19. Two COVID-related resident deaths were recorded. That news came just two weeks after state health officials ordered the closure of a nursing home in Norwich after widespread infections and at least four deaths were attributed to abysmal infection protocols.

Then residents awoke to the news that President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for COVID-19 infection. We join other Americans in hopes and prayers that the president and Mrs. Trump, and others associated with the White House who have tested positive, will avoid serious illness and fully and quickly recover.

While the news of the president’s infection was disturbing, it was not shocking. Trump, members of his family and staff have at times been cavalier about the viral threat and selective in their adherence to federal health guidelines. The president's holding of mass rallies, without imposition of social distancing and mask-wearing rules, has been reckless.

Collectively, the news of recent days is a wakeup call that the threat posed by this pandemic is not over, not by a long shot.

Health officials have not been able to point to a specific cause or causes for the increases in Connecticut and the spike in Norwich. One might suspect the return to schools, but no correlation has been documented. It may well be that complacency tied to pandemic fatigue is a contributing cause. With the low infection numbers throughout the summer, and the seemingly endless nature of the health emergency, some of us perhaps grew less assiduous about social distancing, gathering in groups, and mask-wearing.

And Connecticut is not alone. States in much of the Northeast are seeing significant spikes in infection rates for the first time since spring.

If folks needed a reminder about the dangers of such complacency, they are getting it.

The good news is that infection numbers are better than much of the country and not nearly as high as they were during the peak of the pandemic in the state in April and May. It is the trend line that is disturbing. Adhering to basics — social distancing, wearing masks when congregating at stores and other public places, frequent handwashing — could go a long way in flattening the curve, again.

But there are uncertainties. As the weather turns cold and people head indoors, as holidays arrive with the tradition of families gathering from far afield, with the continued unpredictably of the virus itself, the state and nation must be ready to adjust.

The third phase of Connecticut’s reopening process is set to start next Thursday, with restaurants expanding indoor capacity, indoor performing arts venues opening with restrictions, and residents allowed to gather outdoors in groups of up to 150 people.

Gov. Ned Lamont must stand ready to delay that phase, and even restore restrictions, if infection rates and hospitalizations grow. The next week could prove critical.

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 Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser 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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