NORWALK, Conn. — Some question why Mayor Harry Rilling issued a mask mandate this week, when the test positivity rate is 3.1%, compared to the 5% rate everyone waited to reach before Connecticut could reopen.
The point is to not let it get up to 5% again, Rilling said Saturday.
“The Delta variant is much more transmissible and we are seeing a significant spike in the number of cases,” he wrote. “Last year we started to see a spike in September, this year it started at the end of July. The entire state of Connecticut will likely be in the red zone very soon. We are trending in that direction. A couple of weeks ago, we were in the blue zone.”
“You want to get ahead of it,” Norwalk Chief of Staff Laoise King said Friday.
Norwalk’s case positivity rate did not go up between July 25 and Aug. 7, staying at the 3.1% reported for July 18-31. The cases per 100,000 jumped from the 10.1 reported last week to 12.6 reported in Friday’s COVID-19 update from the Mayor’s Office.
The positivity rate was reported as 2.6% on June 30 and the cases per 100,000 were 6.5.
Rilling was empowered to issue a mask mandate by Gov. Ned Lamont’s Aug. 5 executive order 13A, which, among other things, authorized municipal governments “to require the universal use of masks or face coverings,” pursuant to Sec. 28-8a of the Connecticut General Statutes, and by Norwalk’s City Code Chapter 31, which, when an emergency has been declared, authorizes the Mayor to take “steps as are reasonably necessary in the light of the emergency to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of the city.”
On July 27, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance recommending that all people, including those who are vaccinated, wear masks in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high COVID-19 transmission.
“According to the CDC, nearly than 92% of the country currently falls into the high or substantial community transmission categories over a 7-day average, including all of Connecticut, with Hartford, Middlesex, New Haven and New London Counties showing high transmission,” Rilling’s Friday update states.
“Statewide hospitalizations have increased by 92 people over the last week, with most counties seeing an increase. These are the most COVID-related hospitalizations in three months,” it states.
Fairfield County has 71 hospitalizations this week, an increase of 31 since Aug. 5, according to the update.
“COVID-19 health metrics continue to trend in the wrong direction in Norwalk, around the state, and across the country, driven mainly by the Delta Variant,” Rilling states in the update.
Also, “There are many people who are not yet vaccinated including children under the age of 12,” Rilling said Saturday. “With the lifting of the restrictions, people are much more active. Moreover, we are aware of fully vaccinated people being hospitalized. I always said that I would follow the science, and the Center for Disease Control has recommended that people indoors in public places should be wearing masks whether they are vaccinated or not.”
Anyone who violates the mask mandate, other than those who are medically exempt, is subject to a fine, Rilling’s order states. “An employer, rather than the employee, is liable for the fine for any employee’s failure to wear a required mask or cloth-face covering while at work.”
“We are hopeful businesses and customers will adhere to the guidelines so it won’t come to that,” Norwalk Communications Director Josh Morgan said Friday.
Medically exempt folks need to carry documentation with them, the order states. Also exempt are people consuming food or beverages in a restaurant or bar and anyone under the age of 2.
Movie theaters, public transportation, schools, houses of worship and congregate living settings are subject to the mandate.
Rilling said he hopes Lamont makes this a statewide policy.
“There is good news and bad news when it comes to this virus,” Rilling states in the update. “The good news is the vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious outcomes by reducing risk for hospitalizations and death from COVID-19. The bad news is there are still millions of people left to vaccinate in this country, including nearly 28,000, almost a third of the population, here in Norwalk, who some are currently eligible for the vaccine, and many are under 12 years of age and not yet eligible.”
Norwalk is offering a $10 grocery store voucher at select vaccine clinics, he states. There are also drawings for free concert tickets.
Reinstating the mask mandate “was not a decision I came to lightly,” he said. “My number one priority is the health and safety of our community, and I am following the CDC guidelines regarding masking when community transmission is substantial or higher. The last thing I want, or any of us want, is another stay-at-home order and businesses shut down because of a rapid outbreak of the
virus. Wearing a mask, watching your distance, and washing your hands, are proven simple steps we can all take that have a big impact. I appreciate residents, employers, and customers for their continued cooperation.”