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    Tuesday, January 31, 2023

    Lamont allows some municipal leaders to tighten COVID-19 restrictions

    A nurse administers a coronavirus test Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, outside the Community Health Center of New London. The city is among those seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases. Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday, Oct. 13, signed an executive order that will allow municipalities to decide whether to roll back Phase 3 reopenings to Phase 2 if they are facing outbreaks. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday signed a new executive order giving leaders of municipalities, such as New London and Norwich, that are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases the authority to revert to more restrictive limits on the number of people allowed at certain businesses and gatherings.

    The governor's office, in a statement, said the executive order was the 75th since Lamont enacted the emergency declaration and the move “builds upon his efforts to encourage mitigation strategies that slow down transmission of the virus.” Lamont on Monday appeared in New London, a city where the daily COVID-19 case rate reached 30.5 per 100,000 between Sept. 20 and Oct. 3.

    The executive order, which takes effect Thursday, allows municipal leaders under certain defined conditions the discretion to revert to restrictions in place prior to Oct. 8, when the state’s Phase 3 of reopening went into effect and allowed larger gatherings at places like restaurants and religious institutions.

    Municipalities allowed to revert would be identified by the Connecticut Department of Public Health by their higher infection rates: a two-week average of more than 15 cases per day per 100,000 residents.

    "It is essential for the sake of public health and safety to provide municipalities that have seen an increase in COVID-19 cases the authority and flexibility to implement and enforce within their own jurisdictions more restrictive size and gathering limitations to curtail the rate of COVID-19 transmission in those municipalities and throughout the state,” the executive order reads.

    Phase 3, for example, allowed restaurants to open at 75% capacity indoors as opposed to 50% capacity during Phase 2. It also loosened restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings, religious gatherings, libraries and indoor performing arts venues.

    New London Mayor Michael Passero previously has said it would be a difficult decision to roll back the loosened restrictions, especially considering the small geographic size of the city.

    “The City is currently conferring with Ledge Light Health District to determine whether or not a roll back to Phase 2 is a strategy that has merit for New London’s mere 5½ square miles in geographic size,” he said Tuesday.  

    The executive order indicates that DPH would report weekly on its website the average over a 14-day period of new cases per 100,000 residents, excluding long-term care facilities and correctional institutions.

    As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the state reported that New London County had seen 2,821 confirmed and 84 probable COVID-19 cases, increases of 67 and 1, respectively, from numbers reported Monday. The county has seen 97 confirmed deaths associated with the disease, up by one since Monday, while probable deaths remained unchanged at 30. Hospitalizations related to the disease also remained unchanged, at 25.

    The chief executive of a municipality that meets the criteria will provide to the commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development written notice of the municipality’s decision either to maintain Phase 3 restrictions or revert to Phase 2.

    Norwich city and school leaders and the Uncas Health District will meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the governor’s latest executive order and whether to try to roll back some Phase 3 openings.

    City Manager John Salomone said the group will review the latest Norwich COVID-19 numbers, whether they are trending up or down. But he cautioned that the effects of tightening restrictions could take a while to show up in the numbers.

    “It’s really a no win,” Salomone said. “You tighten up, and you affect people economically. And you have to weigh that with the effort to rein in the outbreak.”

    The DPH declared a COVID-19 alert for Norwich on Oct. 1, offering assistance to add numerous free testing sites and contact tracing for people who tested positive or who were exposed to someone with the virus. Public schools and Norwich Free Academy reverted to fully remote learning for two weeks.

    School officials will participate in Wednesday’s meeting. Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow told the school board Tuesday she hopes to have information to decide “before Friday” whether to return to hybrid learning next week.

    Norwich City Hall and city offices have remained closed to the public since March, open by appointment only, with municipal meetings held online or by teleconference. When the alert was issued, city inspectors stopped doing in-person inspections, and developers, contractors and homeowners are asked to drop off permit applications in a drop box to be reviewed with telephone consultations.

    Mayor Peter Nystrom said many downtown Norwich restaurants were unable to take advantage of the state’s Phase 3 opening Oct. 8, because the same spacing and social distancing requirements remain in place and they don’t have enough space to expand indoor capacity.

    g.smith@theday.com

    c.bessette@theday.com

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