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West Hartford Leaders Ask, but Don’t Mandate, Universal Masking

West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor, wearing her mask. Courtesy photo (we-ha.com file photo)

Mayor Shari Cantor sent an Everbridge message to the community Friday, and a message was also sent to business owners, asking for all individuals to wear masks while at indoor establishments.

By Ronni Newton

The message from West Hartford leaders is clear, and they are asking nicely: Please wear a mask when you are indoors with people outside of your household.

The request applies to those who are vaccinated as well as those who have not been vaccinated.

Vaccination rates are high in West Hartford, and even with increased transmission caused by the highly-contagious Delta variant, that continues to be the best defense against serious illness caused by COVID-19.

In West Hartford, 76.68% of the total population – which includes those who are not yet age eligible – have received at least one dose of a vaccine according to the most recent data released by the state.

Among residents ages 12-15, 76.15% have received at least one shot and 68.03% are fully-vaccinated. For the age group 16-44, 85.854% of West Hartford residents have received at least on dose and 80.8% are fully vaccinated, and the rates are even higher for the 45-64 age group (86.72% with at least one shot and 82.93% fully vaccinated) and 65 and up (100% with at least one dose and 97.32% fully vaccinated).

On Wednesday, the town instituted a mask requirement in all municipal buildings.

A letter signed by Mayor Shari Cantor and Town Manager Matt Hart was sent to business owners on Friday morning, expressing sincere thanks and appreciation for keeping the community safe during the pandemic, but asking for a continuation of shared sacrifice.

“Due to the spread of the Delta variant, community transmission of COVID-19 is rapidly increasing in West Hartford. For this reason, although there is no town mask mandate at this time, we are strongly urging all West Hartford businesses – including offices, restaurants, gyms, retailers, and places of worship – to once again require universal masking for all employees and visitors when indoors.”

With the high vaccination rates, Mayor Shari Cantor said she’s hopeful that positivity won’t continue to rise and hopeful that the request to wear masks in indoor public spaces won’t have to be changed into a mandate.

“We really believe that people will be compliant. If they aren’t, and this continues to get worse, we may have to rethink it,” Cantor told We-Ha.com Friday.

The state reported 731 new positive cases on Friday (12 of those were among West Hartford residents) for a positivity rate of 3.52%. Hospitalizations increased by 19, to 174.

The town has had 56 additional positive cases of COVID-19 in the past week, and the case rate per 100,000 of population over the most recent 14-day period is 13.2 – far lower than it was in the winter, but still much higher than it was a month ago.

CT.gov

Cantor also issued an Everbridge message to the community on Friday afternoon reiterating the message that was earlier sent to businesses.

“The governor has given each community the ability to mandate mask wearing in all businesses. However, town leadership has decided not to impose that restriction at this time, but will continue to monitor the situation closely. In the meantime, we are asking West Hartford businesses to follow our example and please require universal masking at all indoor establishments under their control, for both employees and visitors. This includes offices, gyms, restaurants, retailers, and places of worship. We are in the processes of communicating with all such establishments to ask them to require masks indoors,” the message said.

“I am so grateful that our community has been willing to take needed precautions throughout the pandemic to protect their neighbors,” said Cantor.“I know how frustrating it is for many people to think about masking up again, but the Delta variant is highly contagious and we are very concerned about the trends we are seeing in community spread.”

While Executive Order No. 13A, which Gov. Ned Lamont signed on Aug. 5, 2021, grants the town manager the authority to impose local mask mandates under the civil preparedness and emergency management statutes, Hart is also hoping there is voluntary compliance with universal masking, but added that he is prepared to issue a mandate if needed.

“West Hartford has one of the best vaccination rates in the state, and our businesses and residents have consistently stepped up when asked,” said Hart. “We are currently requiring universal masking in town-owned facilities, and we are simply asking private businesses to follow our example.”

The community is also being urged to wear masks when indoors with anyone who doesn’t live in the same household.

Also on Friday, West Hartford Public Schools Superintendent Tom Moore sent a message to families notifying them that, at least when schools open on Sept. 1, all individuals will be required to wear masks.

Aimee Krauss, director of the West Hartford Health-Bloomfield District, said it’s not too late to get vaccinated to provide the best defense against COVID-19, including the current and any future variants that arise.

“Breakthrough cases remain rare, and vaccinated persons who do become infected typically have less serious disease and are less likely to require hospitalization,” Krauss said.

Breakthrough cases continue to be rare, and most hospitalizations and deaths in Connecticut, as well as elsewhere around the country, continue to be among those who are unvaccinated.

“It’s never too late to get vaccinated, and it is now as easy as walking into our Health District, Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, and many other locations that are offering the vaccine without an appointment,” said Krauss.

Cantor, in her Everbridge message, noted that the past 17 months have been very challenging, “but West Hartford, you have shown such resilience, strength and caring and we will get through this together.

“Fortunately, we know our best protection against the Delta variant is the same as it has been- to mask-up, get vaccinated, and to encourage our friends and neighbors to do so as well.”

Cantor said she greatly appreciates the cooperation of all residents in facing the latest challenge.

“Thank you all for your continued commitment to protect yourselves and your community,” she said. “Stay safe, and be well.”

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