Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday issued an executive order allowing leaders of Connecticut’s cities and towns to impose their own mask mandates for indoor public places.
The mandates could include masking inside supermarkets and other retailers, entertainment venues and eateries. Some cities and towns already require masks in municipal buildings.
Despite rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks, Lamont has declined to adopt a statewide order requiring masks indoors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended that people wear a mask indoors – regardless of vaccination status – in areas of substantial or high transmission.
All of Connecticut’s counties fall under the agency’s definition of substantial (50 to 99.99 cases per 100,000 people, or a positivity rate of 8% to 9.99% in the last seven days) or high (100 or more cases per 100,000 people, or a positivity rate of 10% or higher) transmission.
Lamont said he issued the order at the request of some municipal leaders who want to implement a mask mandate.
“Connecticut has one of the highest vaccination rates in the entire nation, and for that the residents of our state are to be applauded,” Lamont said. “That being said, there are some pockets of the state that are lagging behind others, and some leaders in those areas have requested the option of requiring everyone to wear masks until they can get their vaccination rates higher. While I continue to strongly advise that everyone wear masks while inside of public locations as recommended by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], I urge everyone to get vaccinated because it’s the best thing you can do to protect yourself from this ongoing virus.”
Betsy Gara, executive director of the Council of Small Towns, which represents about 110 smaller communities in Connecticut, said the order helps provide clarity for town officials.
“We’ve been getting a lot of questions from municipal leaders about what they should be doing and what other towns are doing to respond to the increase in the positivity rate,” she said. “The executive order … recognizes that in some communities, the vaccination rates are very high, and they may not decide that mask wearing is mandatory at this point. But in others, where the vaccination rates are fairly low, it may be an important tool for them to control the spread of COVID-19 in their communities.”
Lamont on Thursday also moved up the timetable for when the state Department of Public Health will have the authority to issue COVID-19 testing mandates in nursing homes. The agency has the power to impose mandates as of Thursday; previously, it was scheduled to receive that authority in October.
In the coming days, Deidre Gifford, the interim commissioner, is expected to require ramped up testing of unvaccinated workers in nursing homes. Under the expected rule change, unvaccinated staff must routinely be tested on a weekly basis. Current guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ties recommendations for routine testing of nursing home employees to county transmission rates. In counties where the COVID-19 positivity rate is below 5%, workers should be tested once per month; in areas where the rate is 5% to 10%, workers should be tested once per week; and in counties where the rate is higher than 10%, staff should be tested twice per week.
The state does not require nursing home workers to be vaccinated, as hospitals do. Lamont has said he is weighing such a mandate, but he has not yet imposed one.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday ordered all nursing home staff in the Bay State to be vaccinated by mid-October.
“Requiring the testing of unvaccinated nursing home employees is the first step toward working to ensure that our nursing homes are as protected as they possibly can be from any wave of COVID-19,” said Max Reiss, Lamont’s spokesman. “The possibility of mandatory vaccinations for those who work in those facilities is something that Gov. Lamont is strongly considering. He’s continued to make every effort to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”
Connecticut’s daily positivity rate was 2.72% on Thursday. The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 was 155, down by eight from Wednesday. An additional three people died over the last week, bringing the state’s total number of coronavirus fatalities to 8,296.
Sixty-four percent of all residents in the state were fully vaccinated as of Thursday, according to CDC data. Seventy percent had received at least one dose.