CONNECTICUT — As the state lurches into the week that traditionally starts the holiday season, it is difficult to find a resident who is all that jolly. Maybe that's because many of those traditions are being fractured, displaced or just plain erased by the coronavirus.
Gov. Ned Lamont, still in quarantine from possible exposure to the virus from a staff member, told radio listeners this week that he had informal social interactions on his restrictions radar. He followed that warning later in the week with guidance for college students (get tested and quarantine before returning home) and the rest of the family (don't invite any of the aunts, uncles or cousins this year).
Lamont said he and other regional governors with whom he met last weekend expect Thanksgiving will "kick over the hornet's nest." Although the state leaders agreed that a return to complete lockdowns was impractical, Lamont warned no restrictions short of that were off the table.
"We're going to be looking at gyms, looking at indoor dining," Lamont said. "We'll be looking at churches if we have to, going forward, those areas where you maybe have a little more likelihood of spread as opposed to retail and the workplace."
Harsh, but not unexpected. The state logged coronavirus case number 100,000 on Friday, a grim milestone that Lamont marked by paying tribute to essential workers on social media. One day earlier the state Department of Public Health updated its infamous red zone map, which now shows 145 towns with the highest levels of infection rate.
If Lamont does decide to further restrict capacity at restaurants, he'll have a friend in New Haven. That city's mayor, Justin Elicker said last week he wants the state to go back to the first reopening phase to slow down coronavirus infections. He acknowledged it would be painful in the short term for restaurants, but better in the long term if infection rates were to drop.
Sure, but try telling that to the owner of Legends sports bar in Bristol. Agents from the Bristol-Burlington Health District descended on his establishment like Elliot Ness on a Chicago speakeasy a week ago Friday. The agents said the bar was crowded, open past curfew, and the owner "brushed them off," offering them martinis and pizza. It didn't go well for him.
Just about the only establishments closing faster than the bars are the schools. Coronavirus cases among students and staff continue to climb and challenge school districts as quarantines push students and staff to remote learning. Several of the state's largest districts have gone or will stay at full remote status. They include Bridgeport, Danbury, Waterbury and New Haven. North Haven, Bozrah, Griswold had also gone to full remote status as of Nov. 13.
Lamont is not a fan of school districts dropping back to full distance learning, and made that clear again on Thursday. The state Department of Education released a memo that discouraged school systems from preemptively switching to remote learning after Thanksgiving.
Driving up the case rates among school-age residents is not so much classwork as youth sports. After ice hockey was suspended in 7 northeast states, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference Board of Control called a timeout for the rest of winter scholastic sports in Connecticut. The sports governing body announced Tuesday that the competitions will be postponed to sometime in mid-January. Two days later Lamont ordered all club and team sports stopped effective Monday. The order came after contact tracers found 17 high schools were closed due to coronavirus outbreaks.
Any good news? Pfizer Inc applied on Friday for emergency use authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine. The state has determined that the vaccine's need to be stored at temperatures below -94 degrees Fahrenheit won't be a problem for hospitals. Even if it were, rival Moderna's vaccine candidate can be safely stored at refrigerator temperatures for 30 days and up to 12 hours at room temperature. Whether it's Pfizer, Morderna or both, Lamont said Wednesday he is confident the state can coordinate the "largest vaccination program in decades."
Hopefully, the lines for the coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available won't be anything like the lines for the coronavirus test last week. Connecticut added around 60 testing sites as the state worked to keep up with the demand. There are now around 260 locations across the state to get a test.
Lamont has long been fond of pointing out that as bad as the COVID-19 situation has gotten in his state, it's still better than most of the rest of the country, and that remained true last week. It has also become very faint praise indeed, as Johns Hopkins reported more than 195,500 new infections Friday — the country's highest for a single day. The United States has reported 12.2 million coronavirus cases since the pandemic began and 256,000 deaths have been reported.