Danbury-area COVID-19 cases break record highs as leaders await plateau

Photo of Currie Engel

Local leaders expect that COVID-19 cases could start to plateau in the next few weeks, despite case rates increasing significantly on Thursday.

Every Danbury-area town saw an increase in its case rates in Thursday’s state data release — but some saw more drastic increases than others. The data is released about a week delayed, reporting COVID numbers from Dec. 26 to Jan. 8, which might not capture the most current numbers.

Still, local leaders have said they’re hoping the next few weeks will show a plateau and eventual decline. State experts share that hope as hospitalizations due to COVID were down across the state Thursday for the first time in three weeks.

“I think we’re approaching our peak,” Danbury Health Director Kara Prunty said.

Prunty said the local testing site has seen a slight decrease in demand as of late.

Until towns hit that plateau, first selectmen and mayors didn’t have much to add except to reinforce, as they do each week, the importance of masking, vaccinations, boosters, and good hand hygiene.

“What we have to do is manage our way through this,” New Milford Mayor Pete Bass said.

The state’s COVID dashboard puts Danbury at a rate of 241.8 cases per 100,000 residents, which was the highest rate in the area. The city’s new case rate showed a roughly 57 percent increase from last week’s data. And compared to data from two weeks ago, the city’s case rate has more than tripled.

These infection numbers, and the rate at which they continue to increase, mirror trends in the rest of the state and the country at large.

Brookfield is a close second in case rate for the area, despite being a much smaller town, at a rate of 222.6. The town led case rates in the Danbury area last week, and this week showed a 28 percent increase from that point.

New Milford had the largest percentage increase in its case rate this week, going from 109.3 cases per 100,000 residents to 187.9 — a 72 percent increase.

Bass said the town’s case rate was still lower than other neighboring areas like Brookfield and Danbury, and that the uptick could be due, in part, to delayed holiday tests just coming in.

“Some of the numbers are older numbers because of the fact these laboratories have been inundated,” he said.

He added: “We don’t like to see these higher numbers. It’s something we’ve talked about now for quite some time.”

And while New Fairfield still saw a 31 percent increase in case rate in the newest state data, First Selectman Pat Del Monaco reinforced the fact that the reporting period is delayed, and this week, the town is actually seeing fewer cases.

The state’s hospitalization numbers falling by 22 COVID patients gave her hope.

“One data point doesn’t make a trend but that was kind of encouraging today, to see that number drop,” she said.

Possibility of a plateau

Other towns saw much smaller case rate increases, like a 1.4 percent increase in Sherman and a 7.4 percent increase in Ridgefield, which could possibly signal a plateau.

Sherman First Selectman Don Lowe didn’t know why the town’s case rate, while still high at 137.7 cases per 100,000 residents, hasn’t increased at the same rate as other towns this week.

“We’re not doing anything specifically different,” Lowe said. “We’ve always been a fairly careful community with this.”

Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi thinks the smaller increase could be affected, in part, by people taking at-home tests that aren’t always reported to the state. He also said people are doing a good job masking up and staying home in town.

“There is a self discipline going on, and people understand the high transmisibility of the omicron variant, and they don’t want to get sick,” he said. “So (there is) greater adherence to their own protocols.”

Declining cases

Experts are hoping for a plateau and decline, but there is no fool-proof timeline for when that downward trend will start to occur.

Bass, who talks to the town’s local health director nearly every day, expects numbers to start trending down in February.

“We’re just asking our residents to remain vigilant,” Bass said.

Based on models out of Europe and South Africa showing this COVID wave, the area should start to see a plateau soon, Prunty said. But this week the city also saw an increase in sequenced omicron cases, which makes it difficult for her to predict when cases will have peaked.

“It’s hard to tell. I can’t say for sure because last week we had six confirmed cases of omicron. We now have 20 confirmed cases of omicron,” she said.

Not all tests are sequenced, and the majority of those that are, still show the infection comes from the delta variant.

Lowe said that he hopes the area is hitting the peak right now, and believes that the numbers will naturally start to trend down.

“I suspect if we haven’t hit or peak we’re getting very close to it,” he said.

During a meeting in Ridgefield last Friday that included health officials and experts, Marconi said the topic of a mask mandate was once again brought up, but the consensus was that a plateau and decline is imminent. Marconi said that the next couple weeks will likely remain in a plateau before trending down.

“Let’s hope that happens as quickly as it rose,” Marconi said.

“Hopefully, the good news is that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” he added. “As long as it’s not a freight train.”