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As COVID-19 Cases Rise in West Hartford, Mayor and Health Director Urge Caution

West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor, wearing her mask. Courtesy photo

In advance of the Labor Day weekend, West Hartford’s mayor and health director are urging the community to continue safe practices while enjoying the holiday. [Updated with statement from Brookdale Chatfield]

By Ronni Newton

Town and state officials have made statements encouraging the community to have a happy and enjoyable Labor Day weekend, but at the same time have tempered those wishes with a note of caution for people not to let their guard down as they celebrate the official end of the summer season.

There has been a “modest rise” in positive COVID-19 cases in West Hartford in the past two weeks, and as schools prepare to re-open in West Hartford next week, Mayor Shari Cantor is asking residents to continue to wear face coverings when inside with individuals other than household members and when outside if 6 feet of physical distancing cannot be maintained.

“We have the confluence of heading into a beautiful end-of-summer weekend, schools beginning, and as we know from what has happened in other parts of the country, holiday weekend celebrations often lead to increased transmissions,” Cantor told We-Ha.com. “We have worked so hard, let’s not let our guard down.”

From the beginning of June through the middle of August, the number of cases per week in West Hartford averaged about 10, but that number has risen the past few weeks.

In the week of Aug. 24-31, according to data provided by Aimee Krauss, director of the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District, and posted on the town’s website, there were 17 new positive cases.

The town will be updating its website next week, but according to data from the state’s daily reports, in the past five days alone there have been another 15 cases.

“We are starting to see a slight uptick in cases,” Krauss said.

Fatalities have not increased. For the past month, on average there has been less than one death in town each week.

She said that thus far, most people have been cooperative with the Health District’s contact tracing efforts, and urged the community to continue to answer calls for information, which is an important component to assist with controlling the spread.

In some cases, entire households have become infected, Krauss said.

West Hartford’s positivity rate is still around 1%, Krauss said, but with school beginning and many activities likely planned for the Labor Day weekend, she has some concerns.

While the majority of deaths have been among residents who are over 80, and the majority of earlier cases were also in that age group, the prevalence of positive cases among younger people, particularly in the 20-29 age group, has been increasing.

Some of the new cases could be due to increased testing as students return to colleges. Krauss said that one complicating factor for contact tracing is that students being tested don’t always use their West Hartford campus address, but rather their home address. Both the University of Saint Joseph and University of Hartford are assisting with contact tracing for those cases, she said.

Percent of positive cases by age group 6/17-8/31. West Hartford details at right. West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District graph

Overall percent of positive cases by age group. West Hartford details at right. West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District graph

Demographic details are not available specifically for recent cases, however, data released by the state on Thursday evening for cases at assisted living facilities and nursing homes indicates there were six new positive cases at Brookdale Chatfield in West Hartford for the week of Aug. 26-Sept. 1. Those six cases represent half of all the new cases (12) in assisted living facilities in the state reported for that period – the most recent timeframe for which information is available.

A Brookdale Chatfield spokesperson confirmed to We-Ha.com Friday evening that “more than one member of our Brookdale Chatfield community has tested positive for COVID-19” and provided the following statement:

“Brookdale’s top priority is the health and safety of our residents, patients, and associates. We are taking the COVID-19 situation extremely seriously as the health and well-being of our residents, patients and associates is our top priority. Brookdale believes that testing is important and we have been working in coordination with the health department for testing of individuals regardless of whether they show symptoms. Our goal with community-wide testing is to help contain the virus. We let our residents, their families and our associates know in advance that testing is being planned.

“We have informed residents, their family members, and associates of Brookdale Chatfield of this matter. We are diligently monitoring our residents and associates for signs and symptoms, and we continue to work directly with local health officials to help ensure our residents and associates have the appropriate and necessary medical support. We will continue to follow the guidance of the health department throughout this situation.

“Additionally, we have been closely following our established policies and procedures for contagious illnesses and are also closely following the guidance and protocols recommended by the health department and the CDC. We have detailed protocols and plans in place to respond to this situation, prioritizing the health and wellness of our residents.

“Since reports of COVID-19 in the United States were confirmed, and in accordance with CDC guidelines, Brookdale has proactively implemented precautionary measures throughout our communities. Our emergency response teams and experienced operational and clinical teams are working tirelessly to minimize chances for exposure and additional transmission of the virus and we are regularly providing updated information in our online newsroom, www.brookdalenews.com.

“We thank our staff, residents and their families for their continued understanding as we work to promote the health and wellbeing of our community members.”

West Hartford did not have any new cases reported in nursing homes for the most recent period.

The symptoms indicative of COVID-19 have changed as the virus has spread, particularly among younger people, Krauss said. “We are not getting a lot of people who say they have a fever.”

She said that a scratchy throat or sinus congestion could be a sign of the virus, and urged the community to be vigilant about staying home if they feel at all sick.

“If your child is sick, please keep them home,” was Krauss’ message to parents as children head back to school.

In addition, she said, “It’s very important this year to get a flu shot.”

Avoiding getting seasonal flu will help keep people out of the hospitals, and will avoid the possible confusion of symptoms or the possibility of getting both influenza and COVID-19 at the same time.

The West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District is offering two drive-thru flu shot clinics over the next few weeks, the first time this type of clinic has taken place. Pre-registration is required.

Flu shots are also available free of charge through your physician and at many pharmacies.

While West Hartford has not been listed as a trouble spot,”We still have community spread,” Krauss said. Wearing face coverings and maintaining physical distancing, as well as frequent had washing, is the best way of preventing the disease.

“You don’t know who is sick,” she said.

Even when a vaccine becomes available, she said, the control measures will be needed for some period of time because you won’t know who in the community has been vaccinated.

The state Department of Public Health issued a COVID-19 alert for Labor Day weekend on Friday afternoon.

“We have a beautiful weekend coming up. But as we celebrate the holiday, DPH is reminding Connecticut residents that small gatherings of family and friends are a major source of infection,” Acting Commissioner Gifford said in the alert. “In the past several weeks in Connecticut, we are seeing small gatherings of friends and family leading to COVID-19 infection. If you are getting together with anyone who doesn’t live with you, please: wear your mask, maintain social distance, wash your hands frequently, and use hand sanitizer. In addition, our partners in local health departments will be monitoring restaurants and other public spaces to be sure our Re-Opening rules are adhered to,” she said.

“We are in this together and it is up to each and every one of us to keep our community safe and healthy so we can keep schools and businesses open,” Cantor said in Friday afternoon’s message.

I wear my face covering to protect you and you wear yours to protect me,” she said.

“Be safe and be smart, because we don’t want to have serious consequences. We are still in a pandemic and the threat of community spread is real.”

Cantor said she hopes everyone has a wonderful and healthy Labor Day weekend.

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