Lamont: CT could follow new CDC guidance on masks

Carmen Davenport waits for a St. Patrick's Day drive-thru lunch at The Bigelow Center for Senior Activities in Fairfield on Tuesday Mar. 16, 2021.

Carmen Davenport waits for a St. Patrick's Day drive-thru lunch at The Bigelow Center for Senior Activities in Fairfield on Tuesday Mar. 16, 2021.

Christian Abraham/Hearst Connecticut Media

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its guidance Tuesday and will recommend students wear masks in schools and some fully vaccinated people to wear face coverings indoors in certain areas of the country where COVID cases are spiking.

Connecticut does not immediately fall into the areas of the country where the CDC recommends fully vaccinated people to wear masks inside public settings. The new recommendations apply to those in areas with “substantial to high” community transmission of the virus, but the CDC had all of Connecticut listed Tuesday as having moderate spread.

The community transmission metric weighs both total number of cases per 100,000 people and the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests over a seven-day period, according to the CDC.

Max Reiss, communications director for Gov. Ned Lamont, said the state is “reviewing the guidance and we will have additional updates in the coming days.”

Reiss said Hartford and New London counties are close to the threshold outlined by the CDC for everyone to wear masks in public indoor spaces.

The CDC also revised its guidance about masks in schools that had initially recommended fully vaccinated students and staffs could go without face coverings, regardless of community transmission.

Lamont said Tuesday he would “tend to track” with the CDC recommendations on schools, but he has yet to make a final decision on the matter.

“Give me another couple of weeks to see whether we’re Florida or we’re Connecticut. If we’re Connecticut, I think we give a little more discretion because we’ve earned it. ... You know, two weeks, stuff might be happening, we’ve got to see,” he said.

Reiss said the state Department of Public Health and the Department of Education have provided Connecticut school districts with interim recommendations for COVID prevention as a guide for all students to return to in-person learning this fall.

“The best action all of our students over the age of 12 and educators could do to support a safe return to school is to receive one of the COVID-19 vaccines,” Reiss said. “To that end, the Department of Public Health and the State Department of Education are assisting local school districts and public health partners in coordinating on-site school vaccination clinics in all of our districts through the late summer into the early fall.”

In a statement, the president of the Connecticut Education Association said the CDC’s recommendation was a responsible way to ensure safety.

“Safety is and must remain a top priority as we return to all in-person classes in the fall, and we expect the state to ensure that all school districts follow the CDC's new recommendations to keep everyone in our school communities safe,” said Kate Dias, the organization’s president.

The relatively fast shift in CDC guidance, both for fully vaccinated individuals and those in school settings, comes amid new evidence that the delta variant can spread among those who are fully vaccinated, unlike other strains, officials said Tuesday.

Ahead of the CDC’s change in guidance, Lamont had repeatedly said he has no immediate plans to adjust the state’s mask mandate, but said his office has been closely watching the situation.

Since mid-May, fully vaccinated people in Connecticut have not been required to wear masks except in limited situations, like in schools, prisons and health care facilities. Those who are unvaccinated are still required to wear masks indoors.

While Lamont has broken from the CDC guidance during the pandemic, especially as it related to vaccine rollout, when the agency changed its guidance on mask wearing in May, he quickly followed suit.

The shift in CDC guidance comes as parts of the country are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, largely spurred by the delta variant. In Connecticut, the positivity rate for new COVID tests has increased in recent weeks from a low of 0.30 percent in June to a high of 2.71 percent on July 20.

On Tuesday, Connecticut reported a positivity rate of 2.67 percent for new COVID-19 tests. Hospitalizations dropped by a net of three patients for a total of 105.

Hospitalizations, often signaled by Lamont as one of the top metrics that informs decision making, has also jumped four-fold in recent weeks from a low of 25 patients statewide on July 9 to a high of 108 on Monday.

While both the positivity rate and hospitalizations have increased in July, the numbers are still far lower than the peak in December and January.

And now months into a vaccination program, health officials have said many of the infections are limited to those who have not received a full course of the vaccine.

State officials have said Connecticut remains in good shape given one of the highest vaccine rates in the country. The latest figures show more than 70 percent of the state’s eligible population is fully vaccinated.

“Connecticut has been a national leader when it comes to testing, mitigation strategies, and vaccine uptake, and we want to continue that progress to the benefit of our entire state,” Reiss said.

State and local leaders, along with school sports officials, said Monday they were focusing on vaccinating eligible, young residents in Connecticut. Lamont said it was a better strategy to try to drive up vaccine rates in this group than to reinstate restrictions like mask wearing and limiting social gatherings.

Lamont said Monday that he did not think a vaccine mandate was necessary in Connecticut.

“Nobody wants mandates. I know how tired everybody is,” Lamont said. “We don’t have to get into that conversation if people just go get vaccinated.”

While there are no plans for a vaccine mandate in Connecticut, President Joe Biden said Tuesday that a requirement for federal employees to get vaccinated was still under consideration, the Associated Press reported. Similar employee mandates have been announced in California and New York City.

Staff writer Julia Bergman contributed to this story.