Connecticut turns back to tighter restrictions as COVID-19 cases climb
As COVID-19 cases climb in Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont is turning back to tighter restrictions to help stem the spread of the disease.
Phase 2.1 reopening restrictions are going back into effect statewide at 12:01 a.m. Friday. Lamont announced Thursday that indoor and outdoor private gatherings will be limited to 10 people, down from the current indoor limit of 25.
"It’s these small, informal, private gatherings, often in our homes, where most likely we’ll let our guard down," he said. "It’s a friend, or a friend of the friends, so we feel like, ‘OK, that’s fine,’ and it’s our strong feeling that if we can limit those private gatherings for a period of time, it will make a real difference."
Lamont said this also makes a big difference in terms of contact tracing — and the 10-person limit applies to Thanksgiving.
During his news conference at a Middletown school Thursday, he also announced new rapid testing for the coronavirus among students and staff who are exhibiting symptoms of what could be COVID-19. Norwich Public Schools will participate in the pilot program.
Also on Thursday, Connecticut Department of Public Health acting Commissioner Deidre Gifford issued an advisory for Connecticut residents to stay home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. "in order to reduce the risk of further viral transmission." Exceptions are for essential workers and for those who must leave home on an emergency basis for medical care or to buy food.
Lamont also said high-risk sports will not be played for the rest of 2020, and masks will be required for medium-risk indoor sports. No Connecticut team will travel out of the state for games.
High-risk sports include wrestling, 11-on-11 football, boys' lacrosse, competitive cheer and dance; medium-risk sports include basketball, hockey, volleyball, baseball, softball, soccer, water polo and tennis.
This all comes as 68 of Connecticut's 169 municipalities are now in the red zone, meaning at least 15 COVID-19 cases have been detected out of 100,000 people on a daily basis in those areas. Locally, municipalities with a red alert status include Montville, Ledyard, Norwich, North Stonington, Groton, New London and Waterford.
Stonington raised its alert status to orange, which indicates 10 to 14 cases per 100,000 population per day. East Lyme and Old Lyme were under yellow alerts, with five to nine cases per 100,000 population per day, while Lyme, Salem and Preston were reporting cases below those thresholds.
The governor reported on Thursday that the state had a daily increase of 1,175 COVID-19 cases, though that included hundreds of previously reported cases that had not yet been included in counts. The state saw 11 more deaths and six hospitalizations, and a test positivity rate of 3.7%.
In New London County, 4,009 confirmed COVID-19 cases had been reported as of Thursday evening, an increase of 50 since the day before, and 132 probable cases, an increase of 23. Two more confirmed deaths associated with the disease brought the county's total to 112 so far, while probable related deaths remained the same at 34. Hospitalizations connected with the disease climbed by three to 20; Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London had 14 COVID-19 patients Thursday. Westerly Hospital had six.
Norwich participating in school testing program
Norwich Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow said she volunteered her district to be part of the testing pilot program, which will use the BinaxNOW rapid COVID-19 test, which can detect the virus in direct nasal swabs from individuals suspected of COVID-19 within seven days of symptom onset. The test results become available within 15 minutes.
Stringfellow said district officials are still learning about the logistics of the program and hope to offer students, with permission from their parents or guardians, the opportunity to be tested at school if they are exhibiting possible symptoms. The district will offer all school staff the opportunity to self-test — under medical supervision — at school if they are exhibiting symptoms, she said.
“We believe that this opportunity will give parents and staff who have a barrier to testing (lack of transportation, lack of health care support, lack of available test sites in their neighborhood on that day, etc.) a safe, reliable and convenient testing alternative,” she said in an email explaining the program. “We hope that our involvement in this pilot initiative will help to reduce further illness spread in our City and lead to easier/faster contact tracing opportunities for educational community members. Testing would be voluntary and at no cost.”
Norwich schools are in the hybrid learning model this week, with a plan to start four-day in-person learning Nov. 16 depending on the city's public health situation.
As of Wednesday, Norwich had a daily case rate of 22 per 100,000 population, which is still in the red zone but represents a continued steady decline in cases since the city had a rate of about 50 cases per 100,000 population in early October.
Preston had a brief spike in cases that has subsided to a rate of about 6.2 per 100,000 population. Superintendent Roy Seitsinger said Thursday his school district is not part of the initial pilot rapid testing program, but “will be volunteering as a back-up if needed.”
Norwich Free Academy spokesman Michael O’Farrell said NFA also is not part of the initial launch of the pilot program but hopes to be included if it expands.
Day Staff Writer Brian Hallenbeck contributed to this report.