Health district announces COVID-19 alert for New London
New London — The state Department of Public Health has issued a “COVID alert” for the city, and in a statement released Thursday said it is working with local officials to curb the rising level of new cases.
A similar alert was issued for Norwich last week after a marked increase in positive cases there.
Gov. Ned Lamont, at a briefing on the state's response to the coronavirus later in the day Thursday, said he is contemplating giving elected officials in towns with higher than 15 cases per 100,000 people — which currently includes Norwich, New London, Preston and Windham — discretion as to whether to proceed to Phase 3 of the state's reopening plan, which allows for increased capacity in indoor spaces. He said he'd be making a decision early next week on whether he will give local officials that option, which, if it happens, would involve the state posting a list weekly of the towns that meet the 15 cases per 100,000 people threshold.
While in the past, Lamont has said he doesn't want to take a piecemeal approach to reopening, he said Thursday that since recent outbreaks have tended to be somewhat localized, it makes sense now to consider allowing town officials to make individual decisions whether to further open up.
Between Sept. 20 and Oct. 3, Ledge Light Health District reported that New London recorded at least 115 new COVID-19 cases that raised the daily case rate to 30.5 per 100,000 population, one of the highest in the state. Ledge Light reported 70 new cases alone in the week ending Oct. 2. The state on Thursday reported 109 new, confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New London County in the past 24 hours, and one additional death.
Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London said it was treating nine COVID-19 patients, after discharging two Thursday morning.
Tightening protocols, offering more testing
Mayor Michael Passero and city Human Services Director Jeanne Milstein earlier this week announced that because of the increase in COVID-19 numbers, there would be tightened safety protocols at city offices, which have remained closed to visitors since the start of the pandemic. There will also be an increase in the number of free COVID-19 testing sites.
“We’ve been vigilant. No one can explain what is behind this increase in community spread but we have geared up our testing,” Passero said. “We’ve reinforced protocols for public buildings, are educating our workforce and taking all of the necessary precautions with our own employees.”
Testing is available on weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. at the Community Health Center, 1 Shaws Cove, until further notice.
Ledge Light Health District also has announced testing sites will be open throughout the week and through the weekend, including Friday at the New London Senior Center from noon to 4 p.m. and at All Souls Church, 19 Jay St., between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Jennings School at 50 Mercer St. will host a test site from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. A test site also will be set up from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at New London High School, 490 Jefferson Ave.
Ledge Light Health District encourages everyone who is interested in getting tested to do so. A full list of testing locations is available at bit.ly/nlccvtests. The testing is free, and people do not need to be experiencing symptoms and don't need to have a doctor's note to get tested.
Stephen Mansfield, director of health for Ledge Light Health District, issued a statement on Thursday saying Ledge Light continues discussions with DPH, the city of New London and New London Public Schools about the possibility of “additional interventions” in the coming days to help reduce the number of cases.
“It should be noted that our contact tracing efforts have shown that the majority of new cases involve community-based transmission, rather than institutional based transmission, as was the case at the beginning of the pandemic,” Mansfield said in the statement.
It is unclear if the announcement will impact New London schools. A district representative was not immediately available to comment, but Passero said that at the moment, “all the evidence points to the school environment being very safe.” The district has reported a smattering of cases in its schools, including two in a week at Harbor Elementary School that led to a shift of two weeks of virtual learning for all students.
“There is no evidence that the schools are contributing to the community spread, and I have no expectation that closing the schools would be a factor in trying to mitigate the spread,” Passero said.
That point was reenforced by Gov. Lamont, who said during his briefing Thursday that infections are not taking place in workplaces, schools, restaurants or other commercial spaces, as they were in the spring, but inside private homes where people are gathering without masks and not social distancing — a trend Dr. Deborah Birx, coronavirus response coordinator for the White House's coronavirus task force, warned about during a visit to Hartford earlier in the day. State officials believe that's what's causing the rise in cases in southeastern Connecticut.
On Thursday, the Stonington and Colchester school districts each reported a COVID-19 case. Additionally, the Coast Guard Academy moved to all virtual classes Thursday after a first-class cadet and a civilian employee tested positive for COVID-19 Wednesday. The majority of Friday's classes at the academy will be held virtually.
The cadet is isolated from the rest of the student body, and eight of his classmates whom he came into close contact with are quarantining in a building on campus separate from the barracks in Chase Hall, academy spokesman Cmdr. Dave Milne said.
About 100 people — a combination of cadets and staff — have been tested for COVID-19 in the past 24 hours. So far none of them has tested positive, but the academy still is awaiting results for many of the tests. The academy is aiming to test 20% of the population on campus on a weekly basis, up from about 15% currently, Milne said.
Public reminded to follow guidelines
Mansfield, in a statement, said that with an increase in testing, “we can help people know when they should stay home and isolate in order to protect their family, friend, co-workers and neighbors.”
Ledge Light Health District and DPH are asking everyone to remember that simple prevention measures can make a big difference in reducing the spread of COVID-19.
“Now more than ever we need everyone to make sure they are wearing a mask over their mouth and nose when they have to be around others, to try to maintain at least 6 feet between themselves and others, and to limit gatherings with people they don’t live with,” Mansfield said.
DPH acting Commissioner Deidre S. Gifford, in a statement, added that “if you are over the age of 60 or have a chronic disease and live in New London, you should stay home as much as possible.”
“We need employers to help make sure everyone with symptoms or who was exposed is staying home and not coming to work,” Gifford said. “Anyone who needs resources such as food or financial assistance in order to stay home should call 211 because there are resources available. It is also very important to answer your phone if a contact tracer reaches out to you, so we can help you manage your exposure. We can limit spread of the virus if we all work together."
Day Staff Writer Brian Hallenbeck contributed to this report.
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