Despite outbreaks, Lamont doesn't foresee COVID mandates



Despite expressing concern about some recent COVID-19 outbreaks in Connecticut, notably at a birthday party and a summer camp, Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday that he does not foresee the state following the lead of New York City and requiring vaccination declarations for a variety of indoor activities.

Lamont said he also expects to “give a green light” to local officials to impose their own “higher standard” for masking, based on their local infection rates, rather than impose a statewide mask mandate for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

“Look, we’ve got towns where less than 50% of people are vaccinated. We’ve got towns where 99% of the people are vaccinated. So I think giving some flexibility there makes a fair amount of sense and we’ll be issuing some directives on that within a day,” Lamont told reporters during an event in Manchester. “They know their communities pretty well.”

Various communities around the state have already reinstated mask mandates for everyone who visits municipal buildings. Meanwhile, Lamont’s order requiring indoor mask-wearing for unvaccinated people in public places remains in place until at least Sept. 30 and state public health officials have strongly recommended everyone in Connecticut over age 2 now wear a mask indoors.

Lamont said his administration is, however, weighing the possibility of requiring nursing home staff to get vaccinated, calling it a “priority” for them to get the shot. In neighboring Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker announced Wednesday that his administration will begin mandating that staff in long-term care facilities receive COVID-19 vaccines to help protect some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

Shortly after talking to reporters, Lamont and Dr. Deidre Gifford, the state’s acting commissioner of the Department of Public Health, issued a written statement about recent outbreaks in the state among vaccinated and unvaccinated people. They include a birthday party in June in an unidentified community with 50 people that began outdoors and then moved indoors. A week later, there were 10 cases among 13 unvaccinated attendees and six cases among 33 fully or partially vaccinated party-goers. Four cases led to hospitalization.

Lamont and Gifford also noted an outbreak at an unidentified summer camp where 13 out of the approximately 50 campers, ages 11-14, tested positive. No cases were identified among the roughly 20 staff members, all of whom were vaccinated. DPH said the vaccination status of the campers is unknown. Additionally, 28 Connecticut residents who’ve tested positive have been associated with a recent outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Of those, 26 were vaccinated and none were hospitalized.

“Vaccination remains the most important defense against illness and hospitalization from COVID-19,” according to the statement, which stressed that so-called breakthrough cases in the state remain rare and most hospitalizations and deaths in Connecticut and around the U.S. have involved unvaccinated people.

Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 284.7, an increase of 188.5%, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins. Lamont stressed Wednesday that Connecticut still has “a very low infection rate” and while hospitalizations have mostly increased over the past six weeks, there still remains good capacity to care for people.

As of Wednesday, there were 163 hospitalizations, a decline of three from Tuesday. Meanwhile, there were 537 newly reported probable or confirmed cases.

In other coronavirus-related news:

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EMPLOYMENT BONUSES

To date, more than 5,000 residents who’ve been unemployed “long-term” have submitted applications for the state’s Back to Work CT program, hoping to receive a $1,000 incentive payment after finding and keeping a job.

In May, the governor allocated up to $10 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds for the initiative to provide one-time bonuses to as many as 10,000 people. As of Wednesday, the Department of Revenue Services had received 5,199 applications. The program, which began on May 30 and runs through the end of the year, is intended to encourage the long-time unemployed to find work.

A spokesman for DRS said the response to the program so far has been very positive.

Eligible applicants must spend at least eight weeks in their new full-time job between May 30 and Dec. 31 as well as meet other requirements.

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MASKS AT CASINOS

Foxwoods Resort Casino is updating its COVID-19 protocols in response to the recent recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC last week recommended that people in areas with “substantial” levels of community transmission wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

The entire state now falls into that category.

Jason Guyot, the president and chief executive officer of Foxwoods, said as a result of that guidance, the casino will now require all employees to wear facial coverings, regardless of vaccination status. Guyot said the move comes despite the fact that more than 75% of Foxwoods employees are fully vaccinated.

Guyot said that fully vaccinated guests are also encouraged to wear masks, but will not be required to put them on.

“We still request non-vaccinated guests wear facial coverings for their own safety,” he said. “We’ll continue to monitor and adjust our safety guidelines as needed to ensure a safe environment for all.”

Connecticut’s other casino, the Mohegan Sun, does not require vaccinated staff or guests to wear masks. A spokesman for the casino did not return messages Wednesday seeking comment.



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