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Mask Mandates Disappearing, But What About COVID?

November 09, 2021

Each time a mask mandate ends, it’s fair to ask if it’s really, truly over. Unfortunately, it’s not over till COVID-19 is over.

Hartford this week became the latest and biggest municipality in Connecticut to end its indoor mask mandate, as the city’s COVID-19 case rate dropped to about 10 per 100,000 people from a high of 26 and its test positivity rate plunged to 2.5 percent from mid-August’s 6.9 percent. Yet when the city lifted the mandate Monday for fully vaccinated people, Hartford County was averaging enough new cases in the previous seven days to land in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “substantial” transmission category despite a relatively low 3 percent test positivity rate.

At those levels, the CDC still recommends masks in indoor public spaces regardless of vaccination status. Then Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday the state’s test positivity rate is 3.2 percent, up from Monday’s 2.57 percent, the highest levels in about six weeks.

“We’ve all learned that we can make decisions quickly, that we need to adjust, that we need to pivot as information comes in,” says Dr. Steven Valassis, Chair of Emergency Medicine at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport.

Hartford’s most recent mask mandate began with August’s Delta spike after a mostly calm and mask-free summer. Likewise, the CDC’s mask recommendations followed the Delta waves: Masks were gone in May but back in July.

Now, Fairfield, Glastonbury, West Hartford, Bloomfield, Manchester, Windsor, Wethersfield and Danbury are among the municipalities that have dropped mask mandates.

Here’s how the CDC classifies community transmission levels based on seven-day averages:

  • High: 100 cases per 100,000 people or higher than 10 percent positivity rate.
  • Substantial: 50 to 99 cases per 100,000 people or an 8 percent to 9.9 percent positivity rate.
  • Moderate: 10 to 49 cases per 100,000 people or an 5 percent to 8 percent positivity rate.
  • Low: 0-9.9 cases per 100,000 people or no more than a 4.99 percent positivity rate.

Check the transmission rates in your area using the accompanying “County Check” tool from the CDC.

The state still requires masks in healthcare facilities, facilities housing vulnerable populations, public and private transit, correctional facilities, schools and childcare settings. Business can also require masks. The CDC also requires masks on planes, buses, trains or other public transportation and indoors at airports, train stations and other travel hubs.

“It’s absolutely safer to travel now,” says Dr. Valassis.