Restrictions for returning college students headlined Gov. Ned Lamont‘s virtual meeting with regional governors last weekend to coordinate the next phase of COVID-19 response heading into a holiday period. As all key metrics point to a continued rising infection spread, the governors hope to avoid statewide and regional lockdowns if residents can adhere to mitigation strategies (mask-wearing, social distancing, telecommuting) and follow any measures enacted regionally–restaurant closing times, limitation on athletic events and policies for college students returning home.

Lamont handled his briefing on Monday, Nov. 16, from his Greenwich residence after starting his own quarantine post-exposure to a COVID-positive aide, despite testing negative himself. In the last two days, Lamont has focused on the rising test positivity rate (5.4% on Monday, 5.2% on Tuesday, Nov. 17) and hospitalization numbers (777 as of Nov. 17), saying the latter is a “key metric as we figure out what to do going forward.”

He also noted that there were 22 deaths in CT over the weekend, and state data reported another 12 fatalities on Tuesday–a reminder, Lamont said, of the continuing seriousness of the pandemic.

“We talk about therapies, we talk about vaccines, we talk about ways we can do this. But sometimes we can lull ourselves into a false sense of security–the crowd is younger, we’re getting it earlier, less to worry about–not true. The fatalities are still with us, we have to watch this very carefully going forward.”

Lamont is concerned about the ongoing endurance of Connecticut healthcare workers as those metrics are on the upswing.

He’s also looking toward the upcoming holiday shopping season, hoping to keep businesses open and consumers shopping safely.

He reiterated his hope that schools can stay open. “All the governors were agreed that, just like in Europe, schools are not a source of spread, especially at the lower grades. So we’re going to be issuing guidance on that very soon.”

Among the other coordinated efforts that Lamont sees being put in place soon by the regional governors are earlier closing times for restaurants (as Connecticut and Massachusetts implemented earlier this month); and possibly reducing capacity at gyms, restaurants and religious gatherings–”if we have to going forward. Those are areas where you maybe have a little more likelihood of spread as opposed to retail and workplace,” Lamont said.

One particular area of focus that all the governors have agreed on is returning college students, as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches and many schools around the country transition to remote learning models.

“This is a period of great risk, and we’re issuing a strong declaration… as regards to Thanksgiving, and as regards colleges and as regards we sending out of state college kids back home, and out of state colleges sending their kids back home,” he said. Those measures include testing and 14-day quarantines before or after coming home.

He acknowledged that the majority of students will travel by car, making it more difficult for states to enforce. “The protocols still hold, and I’m going to have to depend on your good judgment and your parents good judgment, that you follow the protocols, it’s so important.” Lamont said those protocols will be communicated to colleges around the country by the unified governors.

Sees Vaccine Rollout Starting by End of Year, but ‘Will Take Months’

Lamont is encouraged by the recent announcements by Moderna and Pfizer about their successful vaccine trials, and he anticipates rollout beginning by the end of the year. But it will still take months, he said, for any widespread vaccine distribution.

“Rolling this out on a very cautious basis, starting in about a month to six weeks, focusing on nursing homes, we’re going to work with Walgreens and CVS; working with hospitals so our frontline responders get access to this. This is going to take months, so that’s why what we can do to bend the curve now is to bridge to the vaccine that will make an enormous, enormous difference,” Lamont said.

CT Representation on Biden COVID Task Force

Lamont introduced Dr. Marcella Nuñez-Smith, a Yale professor who was part of the CT Reopen Committee who is now co-chair of President-Elect Joe Biden’s Covid Task Force. One important part of the work she and the task force will focus on is equity and efficiency for all communities when it comes to a national approach to COVID response by the incoming administration.

“The work of the transition is driven by the data, by evidence, by science. We know there will be differential impact on frontline and essential workers as we dial up and dial down on openings,” she said. “Our planning work is also guided by our understanding of the differential impact of COVID-19 on other groups–those who live and work in congregate settings, such as nursing homes and prisons. We know that communities of color especially have been very hard hit by the pandemic.”

Dr. Marcella Nuñez-Smith

Nuñez-Smith explained that the areas involved include testing, contact tracing, providing supports including food and housing during quarantine and isolation, and access to treatments and vaccine distribution.

“We know that COVID has had a disproportionate impact on people who are Black and Brown, and underserved communities. We know how important it is when it comes to testing, and therapies, and vaccines, that all of our communities, including underserved communities, get their fair shot at this to make sure each and every one of us is safe,” Lamont added.

VT Added to Travel Advisory

The State of Connecticut’s travel advisory – which directs incoming travelers from states with a significant community spread of COVID-19 to self-quarantine for a 14-day period – was updated Tuesday, Nov. 17, and now includes Vermont on the list of impacted locations. No locations were removed from the list this week. The list is updated once per week every Tuesday.