The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
A future without face masks in CT?
Governor says mandate may shift to guidance
As Connecticut speeds toward what Gov. Ned Lamont has referred to as a “new normal,” many restrictions are set to be lifted next month, but a requirement that people wear masks indoors will likely remain for now and there are no plans for a state-run vaccine passport system.
In announcing a broad lifting of restrictions in two phases next month, Lamont said this week masks would be required for a while longer, but hinted that could change in the future.
Other states, most notably Texas and New Hampshire, have started to lift this mandate as more people get vaccinated and infections remain relatively low.
On Wednesday, Lamont’s office said the state Department of Public Health continues to review guidance
on masks, including the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Infections in Connecticut have remained largely stable, despite a slight bump earlier this month. Hospitalizations, considered by officials to be one of the key indicators, have also remained within a safe range for capacity.
Connecticut reported a positivity rate of 2.81 percent of new COVID-19 tests on Wednesday. Hospitalizations saw no net change, remaining at 507 statewide. An additional seven people died from the virus for a total of 8,027 fatalities.
With the increased vaccinations, a small number of states, including New York, have instituted a vaccine passport — a way to prove someone is inoculated to access large events.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for Lamont said the governor does not have plans for the state to run a vaccination passport program.
Through the end of March, Lamont said it was too soon to talk about vaccine passports, but said he could see a sort of validation or passport system in Connecticut. He stopped short of saying one would be implemented by the state, saying at the time it might be led by the private sector — echoing a similar comment made by President Joe Biden.
With infections rates and vaccination progress in mind, Lamont announced the plan to lift restrictions, first on outdoor events, including removing a requirement people wear masks outside, and then a broad lifting of restrictions on May 19.
But speaking about wearing masks indoors during his announcement Monday, Lamont said: “Whether it’s a mandate or guidance, I will figure that out with the legislature in the next few weeks.”
On Tuesday, Lamont said more things will be open on May 19 and “working with my friends in the legislature, that we wear your mask a little bit longer when we are indoors.”
The last phase of the plan goes into effect the day before Lamont’s emergency declaration comes to an end. So the decision on masks may come in consultation with the legislature, Lamont reiterated on Tuesday.
Speaker of the House Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, who believes it makes sense to keep the indoor mask requirement in place for a while longer, said the legislature will likely focus less on what the governor seeks in an executive order, but rather if the emergency declaration is needed.
“[The governor] continues to need some flexibility,” Ritter said.
Quickly vaccinating those who haven’t received a dose is seen as essential for success with the easing of restrictions and important to the governor’s decisions going forward.
The state reported Monday that 61 percent of the adults had received at least one dose of the vaccine. State officials are optimistic that at least 70 percent of people will be vaccinated by the end of the month and the percentage will continue to climb in May.
“The important thing is to keep driving forward with these vaccinations. That’s another key factor in these decisions, the success we’ve had with the program and the success we’ve enjoyed. But we are at the point now where we are seeing, as we predicted when we get to late April here, more supply than demand in certain parts of the state,” said Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer.
While a majority of adults age 45 and older have received vaccines, officials believe many more residents age 16 to 44 will get vaccinated by May 19.
Tens of thousands of residents continue to get vaccinated a day in Connecticut and Geballe said they hope that continues for the next several weeks “until we get those younger age groups up into the higher percentages.”