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Governor responds to CDC news that fully vaccinated people need not social distance, wear masks

Gov. Ned Lamont said Connecticut will conclude its indoor mask mandate for people who are fully vaccinated beginning May 19, during a Thursday news conference.

Lamont’s news conference began a bit later than the normal 4 p.m. time to wait until after President Joe Biden’s Thursday afternoon remarks. Earlier in the day, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared that people who are fully vaccinated no longer need to socially distance or wear masks indoors or outdoors, with some conditions.

The CDC noted that immunocompromised individuals should continue to wear masks unless their doctors say otherwise. Masks still are required for public travel, though this could be revised in the future. Masks also still are required in health care settings and in some communal settings, such as homeless shelters and correctional facilities.

Some experts raised concerns with the guidance, noting that many Americans still are not vaccinated, highlighting “breakthrough” cases of people who were infected despite being vaccinated, and saying that variants of the COVID-19 virus are still a real threat.

Biden commented on the CDC’s guidance in the Rose Garden on Thursday.

“The CDC has concluded that fully vaccinated people are at a very, very low risk of getting COVID-19. Therefore, if you’ve been fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask,” he said. “If you’ve not been vaccinated, or if you’re getting a two-shot vaccine and you’ve only had your first shot ... you still need to wear a mask.”

The president urged Americans to get vaccinated, saying that “most people under the age of 65 aren’t vaccinated yet.”

Lamont said the state has been anticipating this change for a while.

“On May 19, we’re ending all the business restrictions. That’s because 72% of our adults have at least their first shot. That allows us to do this safely, so that means no more curfew, no more social distancing, no capacity restrictions for those big events we’re thinking about,” he said. “Outdoor masking is no longer required for anybody vaccinated or unvaccinated, unless you’re in a very tight area at particularly large events where I’d still recommend it, especially to those who are unvaccinated. That’s our guidance. Indoor masking will still be required for the unvaccinated for a little bit longer.”

Lamont said private businesses will decide whether people have to show proof of vaccination, and maintained his position that the state would not get involved in the issue. “Every store, business, restaurant, they have their own rules,” he said. “At this point, I think people are going to self-attest. I hope we can count on them to do the right thing.”

Businesses still can require people to wear masks indoors after May 19, the governor said. He acknowledged a concern that unvaccinated people may take advantage of new unmasking rules.

“People were handing out fake vaccination cards outside the Capitol just 10 days ago, but I think overwhelmingly the people of Connecticut have done the right thing,” he said. “I like to think people know what the rules are and they’ll follow them. It’s about them but it’s also about the people they’re in contact with every day.”

Lamont also announced that on June 1, customer-facing state government offices are going to be fully open in person, including the Department of Social Services, Department of Labor and the Department of Motor Vehicles. These offices will be asking people to wear masks when they come in.

Anyone can call and request the state’s mobile vaccination vans, the governor’s Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe said. Lamont suggested that for fairs, parades, concerts and events at beaches, workplaces and schools, for instance, people submit a request for mobile vans at ct.gov/covidvaccine/vaxvans.

According to the governor’s office, about 170,000 kids 12 to 15 years old are eligible to be vaccinated in the state. Dr. Jody Terranova, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, said children are susceptible to COVID-19 infection. She implored parents to get their 12- to 15-year-olds vaccinated, while noting that children feel vaccine side effects similar to adults, such as fatigue, fever or headaches for a short period of time.

Terranova said she thinks unvaccinated children should still wear masks in school for the time being. Lamont agreed.

“My feeling is that between now and, say, June 20th, or whenever the schools let out, we’re not going to have enough of the kids vaccinated,” Lamont said. “I would say they’re going to continue to wear the mask through the end of this school year. I’d like to think by the fall, we’ve got the vast majority of our kids vaccinated, and it won’t be necessary.”

Updated COVID-19 statistics

The state’s latest vaccination numbers show that a total of 3,482,860 doses have been administered, with 1,618,266 people fully vaccinated and 1,987,211 first doses administered.

In Connecticut on Thursday, 471 new COVID-19 cases were detected among 29,973 tests in the prior 24 hours, a positivity rate of 1.57%. Related hospitalizations decreased by 21 to 222, while seven additional deaths pushed the state’s toll since the pandemic began in March 2020 to 8,168.

New London County has had 22,278 total cases and 445 deaths so far, meaning the county has reported one additional death in the past week. The county had 20 people hospitalized with the disease on Thursday.

According to the state Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 alert map, 26 of 169 Connecticut municipalities are in the red zone level, which indicates case rates during the last two weeks exceeding 15 per 100,000 population. New London, North Stonington, Norwich and Sprague were included in the red zone.

s.spinella@theday.com

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