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New London, Groton extends, Norwich to lift city indoor mask mandates

Norwich is lifting its indoor mask mandate while New London’s is being extended for another month and Groton's will continue indefinitely.

Norwich’s mandate ends at midnight Friday, after three consecutive weeks of declining COVID-19 positive test rates, although City Manager John Salomone said Friday morning he remains disappointed in the city’s relatively low vaccination rate.

Norwich lags the state in vaccination rates. As of Oct. 13, 57.84% of Norwich residents were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, up from 57.46% on Oct. 6. By those percentages, Salomone said nearly half of residents who enter city buildings should be wearing masks. He is urging unvaccinated people to continue to wear masks indoors, although he admitted it would be difficult to enforce a mandate.

After an outbreak of COVID-19 cases at the Norwich Police Department, the police station lobby has been closed to the public since Monday. Salomone reported that seven police staff were infected at the peak of the outbreak. Police Chief Patrick Daley said there have been no new cases since Tuesday, but the lobby remains closed "for the time being."

Salomone said he has not issued a city employee vaccine mandate and is awaiting guidelines expected from the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration before enacting a vaccine mandate.

Norwich's COVID-19 positivity rate of 4.1% remains higher than both New London, which is at 0.6% and Groton at 2.3%.

Salomone announced the end of the two-month mandate in place since Aug. 22 during a teleconference with city leaders, local health agencies and legislators Friday morning. The indoor mask mandate had applied to all city businesses and public buildings. A police officer stationed at the City Hall entrance — paid for through the city’s federal COVID-19 relief grants — will end after Friday.

Acting on a strong recommendation from Ledge Light Health District, New London Mayor Michael Passero announced Friday the extension of the city’s mask mandate by one month. The mandate, which requires facial covering be worn regardless of vaccination status in all indoor public spaces, was set to expire on Friday.

All of New London County remains in a “high” COVID-19 transmission category. Based on the designation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all persons should wear a mask while in public indoor settings.

“The bottom line is it would be premature to end the mandate at this point,” Passero said. “While we all hoped that the country would have overcome this pandemic by now, the sad reality is that New London County continues to be classified in the high risk of transmission category."

Groton Town Manager John Burt said the mask mandate is continuing indefinitely, and Ledge Light Health District requested the mandate continue until New London County is no longer under the highly transmissible category.

"The Town has made a lot of progress with rates continuing to drop," Burt said. "I'm hopeful with the addition of booster shots, along with vaccine shots for kids 5-11 hopefully getting approved in the next few weeks, that we'll be able to drop the mandate relatively soon. I do think the masks have made a difference, but I'm as eager as anyone else to no longer require masks once it is safe enough to do so."

In an email to Passero and town leaders in the Town and City of Groton, Stephen Mansfield, director of health for the Ledge Light Health District said the use of face masks, especially in indoor settings, has been shown to be very effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Mansfield said progress has been made in reducing the number of new cases throughout southeastern Connecticut and that municipalities should remain diligent in mitigation efforts.

“Thank you for your willingness to put these mandates in place, and although a regional approach would likely have had a more significant impact in our communities, your common-sense approach regarding COVID mitigation efforts helped to keep our communities safe,” Mansfield said in the email.

Uncas Health District Director Patrick McCormack reported that the Norwich COVID-19 positive test rate has dropped from 29.5 per 100,000 population from Sept. 19 to Oct. 2 to 19.0 cases per 100,000 from Oct. 4 to Oct. 23. Salomone had wanted three consecutive reports of declining rates before lifting the mask mandate. Test positivity percentages have dropped from 5.9% to 4.1% over that time period, McCormack said.

State data shows over the two-week period between Oct. 3 and Oct. 16, New London had a positivity rate of 14.6 per 100,000, or 55 positive COVID-19 cases compared to Norwich's 103 and Groton's 45 cases during that same time frame.

In Groton, 57.71% of residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, as of Oct. 20, according to state data. Numbers are similar in New London where 57.6% of residents are fully vaccinated.

City of Groton Mayor Keith Hedrick also said the city’s mask mandate is continuing, and the city will follow the direction of Ledge Light Health District and act in conjunction with the Town of Groton and City of New London.

c.bessette@theday.com

g.smith@theday.com

k.drelich@theday.com 

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