Health officials say they’re receiving an increasing number of complaints about people failing to wear masks downtown or wearing them wrong inside places like restaurants, even as signs of community transmission of COVID-19 virus are emerging here.
The town has “had a few more cases this week,” according to Health Director Jenn Eielson.
“There is really no clear link, unlike last week where we kind of had a more clear link, so that’s kind of indicating community transmission is back, and a little bit on the rise, which is kind of expected two weeks after Labor Day, the schools are back in session, all the sports are playing,” Eielson told members of the Health & Human Services Commission during their regular meeting Thursday morning.
“People are, I think, getting a little lax,” Eielson continued during the meeting, held via videoconference. “So it was to be expected. We are working through it. I work with the school system every single day, including the private schools. So we are able to mitigate it unlike area towns where it seems like they are closing schools right and left. That’s because they are not doing the contact tracing on the weekends that myself and [Superintendent of New Canaan Public Schools] Dr. [Bryan] Luizzi and [NCPS District Nursing Supervisor] Janet [Reed] pride ourselves on in order to keep the schools open, but keep them [open] safely and isolate people as needed.”
As of Wednesday, New Canaan has had 215 confirmed and six probable cases of COVID-19 virus, according to the state Department of Public Health. In a town-wide outcall last week, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said two new positive test results just in represented a college student residing out-of-state and a middle-age person living in a second home out-of-state.
As of Wednesday, the district’s continuously updated “Charting Our Course” operations guide for COVID-19 showed that four New Canaan High School students were isolating because they’d tested positive for the virus, while another 51 NCHS students were in quarantine due to “close contact”—within six feet for 15 minutes or more—with a positive case, as well as three staff members at the high school. (Another eight elementary and middle school students were in two-week quarantines due to close contact, typically relatives of those who test positive.)
Commissioner Tom Ferguson and Chair Dr. Harrison Pierce asked Eielson whether new positive cases had been seen from New Canaan nursery schools or elementary schools. She said no (video clip below), adding that relatives of those who have tested positive must undergo quarantining and that there’s no way obtain a “test out” of that requirement (that is, by obtaining a negative test for the virus).
In New Canaan, many 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. (Police have declined to comment on whether officers will impose $100 fines for failing to wear a mask when within six feet of another person, including outside, as allowed by a recent order by the governor.)
Eielson said during Thursday’s meeting that the town’s Health Department is “fielding a lot more complaints about incorrect mask-wearing both in establishments that we manage—which are the salons, the daycares, the restaurants—and of course just out and about in public.”
“And I think there is also still a misperception about when you have to wear a mask, when you don’t have to wear a mask,” Eielson said. “We kind of designated Elm Street as a ‘mask required’ zone.”
Last Friday, Eielson and other town officials including the chief of police walked through part of downtown New Canaan, both handing out masks and educating visitors about the need to wear them.
“You are required to wear a mask downtown,” Eielson said. “You can’t really socially distance. But if you are in Waveny Park walking your dog and you are by yourself or with your husband, you are not required to wear a mask. So I think it gets a little dicey and we need to work through that with all the phone calls, but we are happy to do that. And as far as the restaurants, reminding them that you have to wear them and you have to wear them correctly.”
Eielson also addressed the new fines that the governor’s order allows (health officials, as well as police, can impose them, under the order).
“There really has been no mechanism put in place on how to actually go forward with that,” she said. “So there is no health department currently fining anybody, because again they didn’t develop a mechanism at the state level. So we are just going to work through and do what we have to do and as the cases continue to rise, mitigate them as they come along, so hopefully we don’t have what we had in March, April and May.”
The meeting was the first that included newly appointed Commissioners Alyssa MacKenzie and Jenn Hladick.