Municipal officials this week posted several signs downtown designating heavily foot-trafficked areas as “mandatory mask zones.”
The yellow signs posted on lampposts say the COVID-19 mask zones are in effect from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. They bear the town seal and include the message, “Thank you for your cooperation.”
In all, 24 signs will go up on Elm, Forest, Main and Pine Streets, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan told members of the Town Council during their regular meeting Wednesday night.
Asked during his update to the Town Council why there’s a set time when the mask zone is in effect, Moynihan said, “Because it’s going to relate to issuing fines. The state is getting very serious about issuing fines.” He said that the state is urging municipalities to enforce rules about mask-wearing and prohibitions on large gatherings, and that town scan be mandated to undergo training on issuing fines if their COVID numbers rise and they’ve taken no enforcement steps.
“I don’t want to be in that category too soon,” he said. “But if your numbers go up, you get on a list of towns that are mandated to be taking the training on issuing fines.”
Asked whether the signs and mask zone means the town will start fining those not wearing masks in the downtown, Moynihan said, “We would like to encourage people to comply without giving tickets.”
He continued, “But again, we are getting serious about a few compliance things.” One of those compliance matters relates to the quarantining of college students returning home, he said.
It’s unclear who made the signs, how much they cost or what will trigger their eventual removal. Moynihan could not be reached for comment.
None of the contracts under $10,000 approved by the Board of Selectmen in the last two months makes reference to signs.
They appear as New Canaan sees a rise in local cases this fall following a summer lull. Moynihan said during the Town Council meeting, “More than likely we are headed to our second wave, and we have to get very serious about protecting seniors and not having a reoccurrence of March and April.”
From Oct. 10 to 16, New Canaan had eight new positive COVID-19 test results, municipal officials said. And Connecticut Department of Public Health on Wednesday reported two new confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Moynihan, who has been reading out Friday updates through a town-wide outcall that he took over in June after ousting former Emergency Management Director Mike Handler, hasn’t updated language in his weekly updates that includes the assertion that “while the virus is present in our community we are not seeing community transmission at our schools.”
The same language has lingered in Moynihan’s outcalls even since the health director noted that New Canaan has seen increasing signs of community transmission.
The highest-elected officials in nearby towns such as Darien and Greenwich say that clear communication with their residents has been key during the pandemic.
Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said it’s been “critically important for us to communicate in the right ways, and in the right cadence.”
“We want to make sure that we have a way to communicate to our residents, and remember that communication in our new digital world is a two-way street,” Stevenson said. “There are times when we want to push information of import and timeliness and then post information where folks can, on their own terms, find what they’re looking for. During the stage of the pandemic when we were at a critical emergency management moment, it was very important to do both things.”
Stevenson added that she is reserving Darien’s town-wide voice calls for “only when there is something of an immediate critical nature,” and that the town is posting up-to-the-minute updates on its website. (Darien had zero new cases reported Wednesday by the DPH.)
“The good news is, folks also know they can go directly from the town website and access the state website—https://portal.ct.gov/Coronavirus—and find all the great information that the state Department of Public Health and the governor are posting.”
Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo said daily briefings have evolved to weekly updates sent out via email.
“Here in Connecticut, we have done very well and in Greenwich we have done very well,” Camillo said. “Last week our seven-day rolling average—they do per 100,000 in Connecticut—it was 4.18 and Fairfield County is half of that, and we [in Greenwich] were .7. But I always caution people that we are not to other side of it yet. We have to keep our eye on the ball.”
Camillo added that at one point this summer officials in Greenwich had to issue warnings to young people who were going to parties in other towns and potentially bringing the virus back.
“We don’t want to let our guard down,” he said.
In New Canaan, some have complained about groups of youth downtown congregating outdoors in close quarters and without wearing masks—a violation of guidance set by local police and health officials.
Health Director Jenn Eielson said this month during a meeting of the Health & Human Services Commission that, despite a multi-pronged effort form municipal officials, some in downtown New Canaan still appeared not to be getting the message that it’s a requirement to wear a mask.
“You are required to wear a mask downtown,” Eielson said at the meeting. “You can’t really socially distance.”