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Connecticut Maintains Low COVID-19 Activity, But Must Face Outside Threats

Ryan Lindsay
Connecticut Public Radio
Lizzie McClellan grabs suitcases from the baggage carousel at Bradley International Airport with help from her mother, Kate, after returning to Connecticut from a two-week visit in Georgia.

At Bradley International Airport on a recent Wednesday, Lizzie McClellan had just gotten off a flight from Georgia, where she was visiting her grandmother for the last two weeks.

Georgia happens to be on a list of states that are becoming hot spots for new COVID-19 cases. McClellan said because she frequently went to places that were open there, she plans to quarantine at home in Connecticut and get tested. 

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“I just think it’s really selfish to others if I’m coming from a high-risk state and I could have the virus,” she explained as she stood by baggage claim.

Claudia Porter, a resident of Georgia, came in on the same flight. She’s visiting a sister in Springfield, Massachusetts, who is recovering from surgery and plans to quarantine there.

“If she wasn’t sick and didn’t have the surgery, I actually wouldn’t be here,” Porter said.

Connecticut’s declining rate of COVID-19 cases has put the state on track to managing the pandemic, but as other parts of the country see spikes in disease transmission, officials and public health experts say finding ways to prevent infection from outside the state’s borders from coming in is now a priority.

Rising cases elsewhere have also impacted Connecticut’s reopening goals. Gov. Ned Lamont at a briefing this week announced that the state will delay its Phase 3 plan, which means bars will remain closed and indoor capacity at restaurants and gyms will stay at 50% for the foreseeable future. 

“We’re just erring on the side of caution,” Lamont said. “We see what’s going on in other states, and I think it’s really important that we maintain that.”

Fewer than 100 people are hospitalized in Connecticut for COVID-19, a significant drop from the number of hospitalizations during the peak of the pandemic in April. The seven-day rolling average of daily positive COVID-19 test results was less than 1% this past week, one of the lowest in the nation.

Public health experts said the state’s ongoing preventive measures -- social distancing, mask wearing, quarantine and other closures -- have led to this point of stability, but it could be easily undone with premature reopening and outside influences.

“It’s a point for cautious optimism because there’s still plenty of folks in Connecticut who have not had COVID-19 and are potentially susceptible if it gets reintroduced,” said Dr. Kevin Dieckhaus, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at UConn Health.

“And some of the other measures that we have at our disposal, which is testing and then contact tracing, really work best when there’s a lower level of community transmission,” he said. “If we introduce a number of cases from outside into the system, we could again fairly easily overwhelm the system again.”

Lamont recently issued an advisory that recommends all travelers coming into Connecticut from states with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

Those states include Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

The governor Tuesday added Delaware, Kansas and Oklahoma to the travel advisory.

“When we issued the quarantine directive, a number of people making reservations coming up from, say, Florida and South Carolina, went down about 20 percent,” Lamont said. “I don’t say that with any great joy, because we have hotels and tourism and I don’t wish ill on anybody, but it’s keeping our state much, much safer.” 

Credit Ryan Lindsay / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Screens at Bradley International Airport display a list of states with high COVID-19 transmission rates on July 1, 2020, and recommend travelers coming in from those states complete a 14-day quarantine.

Dieckhaus said that after hearing from several patients who intend to go ahead with travel plans this summer, he’s confident that state residents returning to Connecticut will continue to abide by the state guidelines and quarantine.

But the realistic expectation for out-of-staters to do the same may be lower and more problematic -- there are no fines or penalties for people who do not comply. Whereas in New York, people who violate the state’s travel advisory could face a civil penalty of up to $10,000.

“The quarantine without it being enforced by law is a little difficult to fully implement,” Dieckhaus said, “but I think the spirit of that is certainly valid.”

Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority, which runs Bradley International Airport, has suggested setting up a COVID-19 testing center inside the airport.

“So we’re actually trying to create a scenario where folks would have the alternative to take a test and hopefully get a negative result and avoid the 14-day quarantine period,” he said.

Another alternative, he said, is to allow people to show proof of a recent negative test result upon arrival in order to skip the quarantine period. This is already being done in Hawaii and Alaska.

Airport activity has significantly slowed since the beginning of the pandemic. Dillon estimated that passenger numbers were down as much as 98% from a similar period last year. Recently, activity has started to gradually pick back up.

Dillon said people are taking the recommendations seriously because they recognize the public health safety factor, but he said policies that deter travel will continue to have an economic impact on the airport.

“I think most folks feel a viable airport is extremely important to the overall economic development here in the state,” Dillon said. “And quite frankly, if we can’t keep airlines interested in providing service at Bradley Airport, it’s going to have a profound impact down the road as we try to regain the economy here in the state.”

The Connecticut travel advisory took effect June 24.

Ryan Lindsay has been asking questions since she figured how to say her first few words. She eventually figured out that journalism is the profession where you can and should always ask questions.
Nicole Leonard joined Connecticut Public Radio to cover health care after several years of reporting for newspapers. In her native state of New Jersey, she covered medical and behavioral health care, as well as arts and culture, for The Press of Atlantic City. Her work on stories about domestic violence and childhood food insecurity won awards from the New Jersey Press Association.

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