Virus Outbreak

AP file photo

Communities in southeastern Connecticut have been hit with a wave of new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, with the average daily case rate nearly doubling in the Ledge Light Health District's nine member towns. Stonington and North Stonington have been no exception, with the two communities owning the highest average daily case rates in the region.

Data released through the Ledge Light Health District and Connecticut Department of Public Health last week showed 65 new suspected and diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Stonington and an additional 17 cases in North Stonington between Halloween and Nov. 13. Only Lyme had an average daily case rate below 10 and all towns but Lyme and Old Lyme had surpassed an average daily case rate of 15.

"The number of new COVID cases within our jurisdiction has increased significantly, which is consistent with an increase in COVID cases statewide," said Ledge Light Director of Health Stephen Mansfield in a press release. "Unfortunately, we expect this trend to continue as we move into the holiday season."

Although the trend of higher rates continues to plague both Connecticut and other New England states, Stonington and North Stonington have been hit harder than other towns in the region. Stonington's average daily case rate climbed to 25, the highest among the nine towns in the health district, while North Stonington was the only other community within the district to exceed 20 with a daily case rate of 23.4.

For Stonington, the daily rate has now reached its highest mark since early January.

It is a difficult trend to combat, Stonington First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough said, especially in a community that has otherwise managed to stave off major spikes during the course of the pandemic.

"Over the past couple months now we have seen a steady increase in the number of overall cases, leading to a high of 33 in this past week," Chesebrough said. "With the holidays approaching, we are working to get information out there and remind residents that although there may not be as many restrictions this year, the pandemic is still here and it is important to be safe."

When it comes to national trends, Connecticut has been an unfortunate leader over the past couple weeks. According to the latest data, the state saw a 116% increase over the period from Oct. 31 to Nov. 13, higher than any other state. In fact, according to the Associated Press, four of the five states with the highest recent increase in virus cases are in New England.

The state’s 7-day positivity rate of 3.07% is the highest since early September, and average daily cases are the highest since mid-September. Unvaccinated residents are four times more likely to test positive than those who are vaccinated and make up the vast majority of those hospitalized with serious symptoms, health officials said.

Chesebrough and North Stonington First Selectman Robert Carlson, who recently took over the town's top post, each said this week that they are urging residents to "play it safe" over the Thanksgiving holiday and celebrate in a way that will help keep friends and family safe.

At North Stonington Town Hall, Carlson said he had considered lifting a mandate that requires those entering municipal buildings to wear a maskwhile doing so, but following the recent spike and conversations with employees in which he said many told him "It is a small price to pay for safety," he decided to keep the restriction in place.

"It is only applicable to municipal buildings and if it is something the employees are comfortable with and the cases are spiking, then now is not the time to come in and change that," Carlson said. "We will continue to monitor through the holidays and if after the holiday season, it is determined that it is safe to do so, we will revisit lifting that requirement."

In Stonington, Chesebrough noted that the town had removed its requirement that all visitors to town hall wear a mask a few weeks ago once the vaccine was approved for use in children. Under the town's current policy, those who are vaccinated are able to enter town hall without a mask if they choose, but town officials said everyone is still encouraged to wear one to help protect both themselves and others.

The town has been fortunate to have many services available online, Chesebrough said, and over the course of the past year many residents and local businesses have moved to conducting far more business digitally than in person, which has helped reduce foot traffic and town hall and allowed officials to maintain the recommended six feet of distance.

If cases in the community continue to spike or there is a risk of a possible severe outbreak among town staff, Chesebrough said officials would revisit possible restrictions.

In the meantime, both Chesebrough and Carlson said the towns would continue to monitor the number of cases and overall trends. They urged those who need assistance getting vaccinated or receiving a vaccine booster to reach out for help. Both said there have been no distinguishable incidents or issues that have contributed to the spike.

"With colder weather setting in and people spending more time back indoors, there was an expectation that we could see a rise in cases," Carlson said. "There is not a lot more we can do right now other than to monitor the trends and share information to keep the public informed."

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