DANBURY - After a summer COVID wave that saw what appeared to be a peak in last week's state data, COVID-19 infection numbers are looking better for most Danbury-area towns. Even with the start of school, overall rates have declined slightly. Leaders are cautiously optimistic the summer surge has subsided. Earlier this month, Sherman was reporting a case rate of 21.6 cases per 100,000 residents for the two-week period ending Sept. 2. New Fairfield reported a case rate of 19, and Newtown reported 17.2. These three towns had some of the highest case rates in the Danbury area. Last week, Sherman's case rate dropped by nearly half to 11.8, with Newtown's down to 15.1. New Fairfield, however, climbed to a case rate of 21.1. Two weeks ago, the Danbury area COVID-19 map was a sea of red, indicating the worst and highest case rate on the state's color-coded map system. Now, Newtown and New Fairfield remain the only two Danbury-area towns in the "red zone," indicating they have more than 15 cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period. The state has been using this color-coded system since last fall to show where cases are improving or worsening. Understanding the COVID-19 case rates Newtown First Selectman Dan Rosenthal said the town's Achilles heel with cases was summer travel. He said although the town is still in the "red zone," it is on the cusp of "orange." "We may be red," he said, "but we're talking about one case making us red versus making us orange at this point." At New Fairfield's Board of Selectmen meeting Thursday, First Selectman Pat Del Monaco addressed the town's high case rate and emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated. "We are in the red zone. We are the only town in the area that is in the red zone. All of the towns surrounding us are back in the orange zone. That also corresponds to our low vaccination rate in comparison with those other towns," she said. New Fairfield is reporting around 65 percent vaccinated with at least one dose compared with surrounding towns hitting 70 percent or higher, she said. Only Sherman is lower at 63.7 percent. "We are making some progress with our vaccination vans, but not the kind of progress we would like to see," she said. Redding, Ridgefield and Bethel went from the "orange zone" last week to the "yellow zone" in the state's weekly report, indicating fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 residents. Redding First Selectman Julia Pemberton said she wants to see their town case rate of 8.2 per 100,000 residents even lower. New Milford has seen a dip in its case rate - 13.9 to 10.9 - but still remains solidly in the "orange zone." The town's mayor, Pete Bass, said the cases have been mostly related to summer travel and family gatherings. "We're continuing to watch and just holding course," he said. The town's health director has shown Bass that infection patterns match closely with patterns seen in October of 2020. He's expecting numbers to generally follow the same trend and said they may fall when booster appointments are made available. "We're happy that the numbers are continuing to trend down, but continue to tell people to get vaccinated," Bass said. New Milford and Brookfield are already offering third doses to immunocompromised people. Danbury stays steady, mayor points to mask mandates Unlike some other communities that reached the "red" zone at the end of August, Danbury has stayed in the "orange" zone or lower since the delta variant hit the state. The city has averaged 11.4 new daily cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period, according to Thursday's report. This is below the previous week's rate of 12.6, but slightly more than the Aug. 26 report's rate of 11.2. This fluctuation has made it hard to predict what the spread of the virus could look like in the future, Mayor Joe Cavo said. But he's focused on hospitalization numbers, which show vaccinated people largely avoid being hospitalized for COVID-19. "I'm encouraged by the data," Cavo said. "I'm also encouraged by our local data from wearing masks. Here in Danbury our numbers have stayed lower than other areas where there aren't mandates. That tells me that's working." Cavo imposed a mask mandate last month, leading neighboring towns to follow suit. He didn't want to but knew it was needed to prevent the virus from spreading. "But it's the right thing to do," he said. "The numbers in Danbury are showing that." The same sentiment was echoed by Pemberton in Redding, where rates are also low enough to move the town from the "orange zone" to the "yellow zone." "I can attribute that to very high compliance with mask-wearing," she said, adding neighboring towns patronized by Redding residents have mask mandates that are keeping the public safe and rates low. It's too soon to say how long Danbury's mask mandate will last. Cavo said he hopes the delta variant has stopped spreading as rapidly in the state, but he needs more time and data to feel comfortable that it's gone. He's also concerned cooler weather could drive up cases as people move indoors. In Ridgefield, advisers are telling First Selectman Rudy Marconi another surge is likely this winter. "No one should relax too soon," he said. Staff writers Julia Perkins and Kendra Baker contributed to this report.