What makes Connecticut’s current COVID-19 rise different? No new mandates – Hartford Courant
What makes Connecticut’s current COVID-19 rise different?  No new mandates – Hartford Courant

What makes Connecticut’s current COVID-19 rise different? No new mandates – Hartford Courant

COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions are rising again in Connecticut – a result of the BA.2 subvariant – causing a sense of déja vu for pandemic residents.

This time, however, a key element of previous coronavirus waves is strikingly absent: broad controls designed to slow the spread of the virus.

State-wide mask mandate? Far away. All over the country school mask mandate? Away too. Local masking rules? Away from almost all Connecticut municipalities. Restrictions on large gatherings or indoor activities? No one to talk about.

Last week, the state announced that it would not even impose masks in hospital settings Connecticut’s major healthcare systems have chosen to require them anyway.

To some extent, officials say, the lack of control measures at this stage of the pandemic reflects the changed reality of COVID-19. Recent variants, although highly contagious, have caused less serious disease than previous strains. Connecticut has a high vaccination rate plus high levels of natural immunity from last winter’s rise. Meanwhile, testing and treatment are more available than ever.

Officials also mention pandemic fatigue after more than two years of precautions. Michael Maniscalco, mayor of South Windsor, said the mask mandate is probably gone forever as residents learn to live with COVID-19.

“I have not spoken to a single person who does not want to quit COVID anymore,” Maniscalco said. “I think everyone is all over the pandemic at this point and really wish we could get back to normal business as best we can.”

Whether residents of Connecticut have finished COVID-19 or not, it is not clear that the disease is finished with them. As of Wednesday, the state had registered a test positivity of 7.7% over the past week, the highest since early February, while cases and hospitalizations had also increased, apparently due to the spread of BA.2.

Yet the mask mandates and other restrictions do not appear to return soon.

“People know what to do to keep themselves and their loved ones safe,” Max Reiss, a spokesman for Governor Ned Lamont, said Friday. “We are past the point where mandates are not only necessary but also effective.”

Akash Kaza, a spokesman for Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, said Wednesday that the city is not considering new restrictions because the community has “the tools to mitigate” COVID-19 without them.

New Haven, which has been Connecticut’s most aggressive city when it comes to pandemic restrictions, still requires masks in schools and public buildings, but not for the wider population. Mayor Justin Elicker said Wednesday that he does not expect a new mask mandate at all.

“It is quite clear that the general will to continue to abide by mandates is declining,” he said. “We all need to balance the ability to minimize the spread of COVID with people’s willingness to comply with those mandates and requirements.”

Some medical experts, both in Connecticut and nationally, say that this withdrawal from restrictions makes sense and that this phase of the pandemic is about personal – as opposed to collective – responsibility.

“As we move towards a more endemic stage, the responsibility will be individual,” said Dr. Syed Hussain, chief clinical officer at Trinity Health in New England. “If I have people I live with who are immunocompromised, or I have medical conditions, then it’s important that I take precautions.”

Others are not so convinced. Philadelphia announced this week that the city would restore its mask mandate in what its health commissioner called a “chance to get the pandemic on the cutting edge.” Locally, University of Connecticut announced it would again require masks in most settings through the end of the school year “to protect the health of our campuses and to ensure that the remaining weeks of the semester and UConn’s inaugural ceremonies can be conducted in person.”

When a federal judge this week overturned the national mask mandate for people traveling by air and other public transportation, some were immune compromised expressed fear that they would now face greater risk in these settings.

Dr. Naftali Kaminski, a pulmonologist at the Yale School of Medicine, has lobbied throughout the pandemic for more aggressive pandemic control measures. At this stage, he said, Connecticut may not need a broad-based mandate, but could benefit from more robust public awareness of the COVID-19 risk as numbers rise.

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As Kaminski sees it, the people who have been least affected by COVID-19 to this point are the ones most eager to get past the pandemic.

“I think part of it is just a privilege,” Kaminski said. “If you are young, if you are not immunosuppressed, if you have access to vaccines, if you are not worried about missing a week’s work. I think there is an element of privilege. “

As a general rule, restrictions in Connecticut have decreased with each subsequent COVID-19 increase. The first increase in March 2020 led to extensive restrictions and closures. The second wave the following winter brought lighter restrictions, including masking rules. With the delta variant last summer, most state restrictions were gone, but the municipalities were allowed to implement their own mask mandates. During the omicron wave last winter, most cities refused to do so.

It is therefore perhaps no surprise that the latest COVID-19 bulge – which so far is relatively mild compared to previous increases – has been met with a collective shrug from decision makers.

In South Windsor, Maniscalco said city officials had until recently held weekly pandemic meetings to discuss the latest data and what steps they could take. Lately, though, things have started to change.

“We have actually started canceling these meetings recently,” Maniscalco said, “because there is no drastic change other than the numbers being where the numbers are.”

Alex Putterman can be met at [email protected].

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