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Connecticut Towns Are Tossing Mask Mandates as COVID Wanes

“We have been carefully monitoring the transmission rates for West Hartford and our neighboring towns, and we have achieved the benchmarks which allow us to safely lift the mask mandate,” Town Manager Matt Hart said in a statement.

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New Haven, Ct. - 07/30/2021 - An abandoned mask rests on Yale's Cross Campus on the first day of New Haven's city-wide mask mandate for indoor spaces. Photograph by Mark Mirko | mmirko@courant.com
Mark Mirko/The Hartford Courant
(TNS) - Despite guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggesting residents in all eight Connecticut counties wears masks indoors to protect against COVID-19, a growing number of Connecticut towns have begun lifting mask mandates they imposed this summer.

West Hartford on Tuesday became the latest town to repeal its mandate for vaccinated residents, joining Manchester, Glastonbury, South Windsor, Danbury, Fairfield and others.

“We have been carefully monitoring the transmission rates for West Hartford and our neighboring towns, and we have achieved the benchmarks which allow us to safely lift the mask mandate,” Town Manager Matt Hart said in a statement. “This is very good news.”

Many towns that have loosened their mask rules continue to recommend that residents wear masks indoors, even while no longer requiring them.

“We are recommending them, but we’re not mandating them,” South Windsor Town Manager Michael Maniscalco said Monday. “So somebody can walk around the town hall without a mask on and no one’s going to say anything to them. Prior to lifting this mandate if someone were going to walk around the town hall without a mask on they would have been told they need to wear a mask.”

Even as some towns lift their masking requirements, numerous others — including most of the state’s largest cities — have left theirs in place. Additionally, all unvaccinated people in Connecticut are required to wear masks indoors in public, and masks are still required in schools statewide.

The trend toward lifting mask mandates comes as Connecticut’s COVID-19 metrics show improvement following a summer surge. As of Monday, the state’s seven-day positivity rate stood at 1.94%, down from above 3% for much of August, though still much higher than in June and early July.

Still, all eight Connecticut counties currently exceed the CDC’s threshold for when residents should wear masks in public, with either “substantial” or “high” transmission.

Local officials who have repealed their mask mandates say they are focused primarily on metrics in their towns, as opposed to on county-by-county data. Manchester Mayor Jay Moran noted Monday that his town was in the “yellow” category on the state’s COVID-19 map and said he’d followed the advice of the town’s local health director, who was “pretty confident that it was safe enough to move forward” without a mandate.

In Glastonbury , which repealed its mask mandate on Oct. 1 , a statement on the town website said officials will continue to monitor data from the Connecticut Department of Public Health but made no mention of CDC data.

Maniscalco argued that localized metrics are more relevant than broader ones. In his view, what’s happening in Hartford has little bearing on the rules in South Windsor .

“We’re not weighting [ CDC ] metrics the same as we are state metrics,” he said. “Being in Hartford County, I think the city of Hartford will outweigh a lot of those numbers, so it makes it more difficult.”

Earlier in the pandemic, Connecticut enforced a statewide mask mandate for all residents regardless of vaccination status — a policy that was lifted last spring as COVID-19 cases decreased. When the emergence of the delta variant spurred a new surge this summer, Gov. Ned Lamont left the decision on whether to require masking again to individual towns, despite criticism that doing so would create a confusing patchwork of rules.

Dozens of local officials have publicly urged Lamont to set masking rules at the state level — a preference that some reiterated this week. Maniscalco said this could be particularly important if COVID-19 surges again this winter, as some experts predict will happen.

“We would be looking for the governor to step up and show us his leadership in terms of implementing a statewide mask mandate, especially if it gets that bad,” Maniscalco said.

With cold weather and the potential for more COVID-19 cases ahead, Moran said he would prefer not to have to require masks in Manchester again but that town officials will do so if it becomes necessary.

“We’re hoping we’re not going to go back to it, but we’re going to watch the numbers closely,” Moran said. “Because as hard as it would be to go back and put the mandate back in place, if we feel the numbers are rising and we’re getting unsafe, I’m sure we’ll have that discussion.”

Alex Putterman can be reached at aputterman@courant.com.

©2021 Hartford Courant. Visit courant.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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