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Increase in region's COVID-19 cases trending upward

On the decline up until a month ago, COVID-19 cases among southeastern Connecticut residents have been increasing for the past four weeks, numbers compiled by the region’s health departments show.

Ledge Light Health District, which serves nine towns in southern New London County, reported Friday night that it had confirmed 60 new cases of the coronavirus disease since the previous Friday, the most it’s confirmed in any one-week period since the 103 cases it confirmed in the week that ended May 15.

More than 1,050 cases have been tallied in the district since the pandemic began.

One person, a Groton resident, died of COVID-19 complications last week, bringing the death toll in the district to 101, according to Ledge Light’s numbers. Most of the deaths have involved residents of three towns: East Lyme (35), Waterford (29) and Groton (26).

After confirming 18 new cases in the week that ended July 31, Ledge Light’s count of new cases declined or held steady for four weeks, falling to 10, 6, 5 and 5 through Aug. 28. New cases have grown every week since then, by 18, 19, 26 and, on Friday, 60.

Uncas Health District, the public health department for 11 towns in northern New London County, reported Friday that it had confirmed 68 new cases since the previous Friday, pushing its cumulative total to 882. Forty-five of the new cases involved residents of Norwich, one of the areas in the state seeing a recent surge in cases.

Montville, which is home to the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center, and Norwich, where a recent outbreak was linked to a nursing home, have accounted for most of the cases in the district, with 357 and 301, respectively, as of Friday. Sixteen COVID-19 deaths have been tallied in the district, nine of them involving Norwich residents.

“We have a lot of theories but we don’t know if they’re correct,” Patrick McCormack, director of the Uncas Health District, said Friday when asked about the increase in the district’s numbers. “We saw a much older population initially, but now we’re seeing younger people, too. The median age is about 50; we’re seeing the very young to the more mature.”

The rate of increase in new cases has been climbing statewide since early August, McCormack noted, with clusters of cases surfacing in various locations. Gov. Ned Lamont’s office breaks down the state’s numbers by county, with those numbers sometimes lagging those reported by the health districts. The 21 towns in New London County include the 20 towns in the Ledge Light and Uncas districts as well as Colchester.

McCormack said it’s assumed that Labor Day celebrations, the return of college students and the reopening of schools have something to do with the increase in COVID-19 cases.

“We see (the increase) when we do contact tracing,” he said. “When people were staying home more, they had fewer contacts to trace. When they’re staying home, working from home, not traveling as much, the number of contacts is pretty limited.”

More contacts mean more people need to be tested, leading to more positive tests for the disease, he said.

McCormack also noted that hospitals have resumed performing surgeries they deferred during the height of the pandemic and are testing patients prior to procedures. In general, he said, tests are more available than ever and more are being performed.

Media reports of surges in cases raise public concern and that tends to lead to an increase in the number of people getting tested, he said.

With all of this happening, Lamont announced last week that as of Oct. 8, the state will further ease restrictions on businesses and the size of public and private gatherings.

“From a public health perspective, I will be concerned until I have reason to believe otherwise,” McCormack said. “I’m concerned about complacency. I recognize the need to reopen businesses and schools for the sake of the economy, our mental health and families, but you’ve got to stay vigilant about masks, social distancing and hygiene.”

Rising numbers of COVID-19 cases can be followed by increases in hospitalizations and deaths associated with the disease. On Friday, Backus Hospital in Norwich had eight COVID-19 patients. Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London had five. Westerly Hospital had none.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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