Gov. Ned Lamont will reset the rules on his quarantine mandate for travelers after several regional coronavirus outbreaks pushed Connecticut’s numbers to their highest levels since mid-June.
The governor announced Monday during a televised briefing that he expects to complete a new quarantine program in cooperation with neighboring states that should not affect Connecticut commuters’ ability to travel to jobs just across the state’s borders.
And while the new standards are expected to reduce modestly the number of states on Connecticut’s COVID watch list, Lamont urged residents to curb travel as much as possible as the colder months of fall and winter approach.
“We’re trying to adjust this as we see fit, but the more you can stay closer to home, the better,” Lamont said during Monday’s briefing on public access television.
Connecticut, New York and New Jersey have jointly urged residents or visitors since early June to quarantine for 14 days if coming to the region from a state with a high coronavirus infection rate.
Lamont made it official in July with an executive order, mandating a two-week quarantine from anyone arriving here from a state with either an infection rate equal to 10% of all coronavirus tests completed during the past week, or with more than 10 new daily cases for every 100,000 residents.
Under Connecticut’s new system, Lamont said, states must fail two different metrics to be considered a COVID hot-spot for quarantine purposes.
In addition to having 10 positives for every 100,000 residents, a state also must have a seven-day infection rate that exceeds 5%.
Health care experts nationally have hailed the weekly infection rate as one of the most important metrics for measuring COVID-19 spread, while the 10 positives-per-100,000 residents drew less attention.
But after an August outbreak in Danbury was followed in September and October with coronavirus surges in Norwich, New London and Windham, Connecticut’s statewide COVID-19 numbers began to rise.
Weekly infection rates, which hovered at or below 1% for most of the summer, have nearly doubled since August, standing Monday at 1.9%.
And though that remains one of the lowest weekly rates among all states, Connecticut hovered close to the metric of 10 positives per 100,000 tests completed. The Washington Post reported Monday that Connecticut was one of eight states the District of Columbia has added to its list of “high-risk” locations for travelers because of the coronavirus.
Paul Mounds Jr., Lamont’s chief of staff, said the new system should be imposed in the next day or two. And it’s expected Connecticut and its neighboring states all will follow the same standards.
“We’re all one region,” Lamont said. “I think we’ll all be working together on this.”
Lamont also recently cited a 5% weekly infection rate as a potential trigger for another kind of action.
The governor, who in early October further eased gathering limits and other pandemic-related restrictions on Connecticut businesses, said he would considered restoring them if weekly infection rates approached 5%.
Despite lowering the weekly infection rate that could trigger travel-related quarantine activity from 10% to 5%, the governor said he wasn’t ready to set a lower threshold for tightening rules on business activity.
“I think [5%] still makes sense,” he said. “I think we’ve got it under control. … I don’t think we’re going to get there.”
The new standards for imposing travel-related quarantines are expected to reduce slightly the current total of states red-flagged by Connecticut health officials for excessive COVID-19 numbers.
Through early Monday evening, the administration’s travel advisory website identified 36 states, Guam and Puerto Rico from which visitors would have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Connecticut.
Based on the data available Monday, administration officials said the number of restricted states would drop by three under the revised standards, but they did not identify which states.
If new standards are not set, they added, the number of red-flagged states and other territories would rise to 40.
The new system still will include financial penalties for violators, including a $1,000 fine for failing to quarantine and for failing to file an online travel advisory form with state health officials prior to arriving in Connecticut from a state with high infection rates.