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West Hartford to Lift Mask Mandate, End State of Emergency

West Hartford Town Hall. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor will terminate the COVID-19 Declaration of Emergency and Town Manager Matt Hart said Tuesday that the town’s universal indoor mask mandate will be lifted as of Friday, Oct. 22.

Average daily case rate as of Oct. 9, 2021. CT.gov

By Ronni Newton

As of Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, the Town of West Hartford will no longer be under a state of emergency due to COVID-19, and the town’s universal indoor mask mandate will be repealed.

The state of emergency has been in place since it was declared by West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor on March 15, 2020.

West Hartford has had a universal indoor mask mandate in place since Aug. 20, 2021, requiring anyone entering indoor spaces, other than residential dwellings, to wear a mask, but with the town’s case rate continuing to decline and a high percentage of residents being vaccinated, as of Friday, Oct. 22, at 12:01 a.m., that requirement will no longer apply other than at the town’s public libraries, schools, day care centers, and medical facilities.

The ability to end the state of emergency, and lift the mandate, is possible thanks to the high level of compliance by the community, Cantor said.

“I am so proud of our community for protecting themselves and each other by getting vaccinated, wearing masks, getting tested, and taking other precautions and care,” Cantor told We-Ha.com. “Because of this great work we are able to roll back the mandate with the confidence that our community will be safe.”

Town Manager Matt Hart said he has remained in constant communication with the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District, watching metrics for not only the town’s average daily rate of new positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 of population, but also trends at the county level where rates, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are no longer classified as “high level community transmission.”

When the state released metrics on Oct. 7, which provided data for the prior two weeks, West Hartford had dropped from the orange zone – where the town had been for several weeks after previously reaching the “red alert” level – to yellow, with 9.5 cases per 100,000 of population. Last week’s report, covering the period Sept. 26-Oct. 9, showed a further drop in cases, with 7.8 per 100,000.

The town is expected to remain at the yellow level (5-9 cases per 100,000) when data is released this Thursday.

The declining case rate over the past four weeks, the positive trajectory visible on a town and state level, and the town’s high vaccination rate were all factors in the decision to lift the mandate, Hart said. “We have reached the benchmarks which allow us to us to safely lift the mask mandate. This is very good news,” he said.

After more than a year of masks being required for everyone indoors, as well as on the sidewalks of West Hartford Center and Blue Back Square where maintaining 6 feet of distance is difficult, for several months beginning in May 2021 only those who were unvaccinated were required to wear masks indoors, and in most places the honor system applied. During that time some, but not many, business owners had continued to recommend that everyone wear a mask or other face covering indoors.

“As we emphasized previously, the unvaccinated should still wear masks,” Hart told We-Ha.com. With the lifting of the mandate this week, individual businesses will continue to be able to require that their customers wear masks, he added.

Aimee Krauss, director of the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District, noted that the requirement for unvaccinated residents to continue to wear masks indoors is a statewide policy, as is the requirement remains for all residents, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks in certain settings such as healthcare facilities, on public transit, and in correctional facilities, schools, child care, and other facilities housing vulnerable populations.

West Hartford had re-imposed a mask mandate for town buildings on Aug. 4. As of Friday, masks will not be required in Town Hall or other town-owned facilities, with the exception of the libraries since a large percentage of the population they serve is not yet eligible for vaccination.

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

Mask mandates for schools and medical facilities have been imposed statewide by the governor, and unless modified are in place through the end of February when his executive orders are set to expire.

Although the local state of emergency has been lifted, as town manager Hart still has emergency authority under the governor’s public health emergency, through February 2022. If conditions warrant, he said he will re-impose a mask mandate in West Hartford.

In mid-August, with cases rising due to the Delta variant, Hart and Mayor Shari Cantor recommended the universal wearing of masks indoors regardless of vaccination status, and said that if cases continued to increase and the town hit the red alert level, the strong recommendation would become a mandate. On Aug. 19, data indicated a case rate per 100,000 of 16.7 for the town, and the mandate, issued via Hart’s Executive Order 2021-1, was imposed as of Aug. 2o.

Although the town, along with the Capital Region Council of Governments (CRCOG), representing 38 area towns, had asked Gov. Ned Lamont to reimpose a statewide mask mandate, that didn’t happen and restrictions have continued to vary on a town-by-town basis.

Some towns neighboring West Hartford, including Newington and Farmington, never reimposed a mask mandate, while Hartford and Bloomfield did impose the requirement, and to date has not announced plans to lift it.

Hart and Cantor both thanked residents for showing up in force to get vaccinated.

CT.gov

“It is incredible to think of how far we have come since the darkest days of the pandemic in 2020,” said Cantor. “When we first declared an emergency last year, there was no vaccine against COVID-19 and there were very few effective treatments. Today, there are highly effective vaccines available to any adult who wants one, and new therapies continue to be developed.”

According to data released by the state last week, 80.57% of West Hartford residents of all ages have received at least one COVID-19 vaccination. That figure includes individuals who are 11 or younger and are not yet eligible. Of those who are eligible, 87.2% of West Hartford residents are fully vaccinated, according to the town.

According to town officials, West Hartford Public Schools have a 90% vaccination rate among staff, as well as eligible students in grades 7-12.

Broken down by age groups, the most recent data released by the state, as of last Thursday, indicates very high levels of vaccination.

Among residents ages 12 to 17, 92.28% have received at least one shot, while 86.61% are fully vaccinated. For residents ages 18 to 24, 89.82% have received one dose and 82% are fully vaccinated.

For 25- to 44-year-olds, 90.75% have received at least one dose and 85.51% are fully vaccinated. For those ages 45 to 64, 89.29% have at least one dose and 85.5% are fully vaccinated. For residents ages 65 or older, 100% have received one dose and 98.66% are fully vaccinated according to the state.

Krauss cautioned the public not to completely let down their guard. “Although our numbers have greatly improved, we are still in the midst of a global pandemic with a deadly disease that can be very unpredictable,” said Krauss. “Masking up remains one of our most important disease mitigation strategies, and compliance with the state mask policy will help protect against future spikes.”

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