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West Hartford Officials Plan for Mask Mandate, Urge State to Take Action

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West Hartford’s mayor and town manager said Friday that the town will impose an indoor mask mandate once the town enters the “red zone” for transmission.

By Ronni Newton

With increasing levels of COVID-19 transmission across the state, and increased case numbers even among the highly-vaccinated community itself, West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor and Town Manager Matt Hart said Friday that they are planning on imposing a universal indoor mask mandate for the town once the “red zone” level is reached.

According to data released by the state Thursday, West Hartford currently has an average daily case rate per 100,000 of population of 13.6, and is in the “orange zone.” The threshold for the “red zone” is an average daily case rate of 15.

Although the data was released on Aug. 12, the rate is based on the 14-day period July 25-Aug. 7. In the past week, according to daily reports from the state, West Hartford has had 73 additional positive COVID-19 cases, and will likely reach the red zone next week.

The state’s positivity rate over the past week is now well over 3%, the highest it’s been since the spring.

On Aug. 5, Gov. Ned Lamont issued Executive Order No. 13A, giving municipalities the authority and option to impose local mask mandates.

West Hartford had already imposed a mask mandate for town buildings earlier last week, and on Aug. 6 announced a mask requirement for indoor spaces – a strong request that stopped short of a mandate.

“We have all learned that as the numbers change we need to respond,” Cantor told We-Ha.com on Friday. “This Delta variant of COVID is so much more contagious than what we experienced last year and our youngest citizens are now most at risk. We think this is an appropriate mitigation step to keep our schools, businesses and town open and thriving,” she said.

“Public safety is always our top priority, and universal masking is one of the most effective methods for preventing disease transmission,” Cantor said in a statement Friday. “If rates continue on their current trajectory, universal indoor masking will need to become mandatory.”

“I am not happy that we are in this positon but believe that requiring universal masking at this point it is very important for public health reasons,” Hart told We-Ha.com Friday. “We are working collectively to reduce community spread of COVID-19 and the infection rate, and masks are essential to that effort.”

Cantor commended residents and businesses for all that they have already done to prevent transmission.

“West Hartford has one of the highest vaccination rates in the state, and many residents are already masking up,” she said. “Unfortunately, because the Delta variant is so contagious, voluntary compliance may not be enough.”

According to a weekly report of vaccination levels released by the state Thursday, 77.44% of all West Hartford residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The age group vaccination levels were presented with a different breakdown in the latest report, and indicate that as of Thursday, 84.76% of residents ages 12-17 have received at least one shot, while 75.99% are fully vaccinated. For residents ages 18-24, 84.98% have received one dose and 76.66% are fully vaccinated.

The rates are even higher for older residents: 86.52% at least one dose and 81% fully vaccinated for 25-44-year-olds, 87.3% at least one dose and 83.2% fully vaccinated for those ages 45-64, and for residents ages 65 or older, 100% have received one dose and 97.57% are fully vaccinated according to the state.

But towns are not islands, and while West Hartford residents may be more protected than those in other towns, as more of the state enters the “red zone,” Cantor urged state health officials to make universal indoor masking a state mandate rather than leaving it up to individual municipalities.

“West Hartford is prepared to act when it becomes necessary, and we expect it will be soon,” she said. “But this virus does not stop at municipal boundaries, and disease mitigation strategies like mandatory universal indoor masking will be more effective if there is consistency throughout our state and our region. We all want to keep our communities safe while keeping schools, towns, and businesses open.”

Hart, as the town’s chief executive order, has the sole authority under the governor’s executive order to issue a municipal mask mandate for West Hartford, and he’s prepared to do so.

“I have asked our attorneys to prepare an order now so that we can be prepared to issue it imminently,” said Hart. He anticipates that at the current infection rate, the town will issue its mask mandate by next week.

“Regardless of when it is issued, however, everyone should be practicing universal indoor masking to help reduce community spread of COVID-19,” Hart said.

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