Connecticut revises travel quarantine rules to curb Covid surge

By swapping an “or” for an “and” in an executive order, Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut is seeking to avoid placing his state into Covid-19 quarantine.

Under an order Lamont signed on Sept. 16, people arriving in Connecticut from “a state with a positive case rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents, or higher than a 10 percent test positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average” were required to self-quarantine for two weeks.

But on Monday, Lamont announced that Connecticut had crossed its own threshold of 10 new coronavirus infections per 100,000 people over the previous seven days for the first time in months.

So Lamont said he would change the advisory to say that travelers whose states have both a high coronavirus case rate and over a 5 percent test positivity rate would have to quarantine or prove they have tested negative.

The advisory, Lamont said, “was becoming unenforceable,” so it was out with the “or” and in with the “and.”

The swap was not exactly a surprise. Last Thursday, Lamont signaled that a change in the state quarantine mandate was afoot.

“It’d be a little ironic if we were on our own quarantine list,” the governor said.

Connecticut is one of 40 states, plus Washington, D.C., and the territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, that have reported an uptick in new coronavirus cases, the latest NBC News figures showed Tuesday.

Two weeks before a presidential election that has become a referendum on how President Donald Trump has handled the nation’s worst health crisis in over a century, the number of new Covid-19 cases in Connecticut jumped by 58 percent over the last two weeks to a total of 64,021, and the state’s death toll is 4,554 since the start of the pandemic, the figures show.

While Connecticut’s case load is small compared to states like California (882,138), Texas (872,919) and Florida (756,727), it is part of the region that was hit hardest in the first days of the pandemic and then managed to flatten the curve by taking aggressive steps to stop the spread.

In other coronavirus news:

  • Trump is heading to Erie, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday for a campaign rally just two weeks after he was released from the hospital after he came down with a coronavirus infection. But first lady Melania Trump won’t be joining him. “Mrs. Trump continues to feel better every day following her recovery from Covid-19, but with a lingering cough, and out of an abundance of caution, she will not be traveling today,” spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said.
  • Because of the pandemic, this year the U.S. could break the record of 71,000 drug overdoses set in 2019. “Covid-19 is exacerbating the already devastating overdose crisis,” Jules Netherland of the Drug Policy Alliance told The Associated Press.
  • While Trump has repeatedly claimed that more testing is the reason Covid-19 case numbers have been climbing, an NBC News analysis found that coronavirus testing rates have actually fallen in “in several states where cases are increasing.”
  • Another Covid-19 outbreak in Maine has been traced to a local church. Some 32 cases of the coronavirus were linked to Brooks Pentecostal Church in Waldo County.
  • New Zealand’s liberal prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, was rewarded for her much-praised pandemic leadership with a landslide victory over conservative and populist political parties that had been spreading Covid-19 misinformation. Dubbed the “Anti-Trump,” Ardern leads a country where the coronavirus has been all but eradicated.

Connecticut’s neighbors have also seen big jumps in new cases, particularly Rhode Island, which had a 97 percent spike in new cases over the last two weeks, the NBC figures show. New York (31 percent), New Jersey (42 percent) and Massachusetts (18 percent) have also seen upticks in new cases.

The soaring regional infection rates prompted New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to briefly consider adding Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New Jersey to the state’s must-quarantine list before deciding Tuesday there was “no practical way” to enforce that kind of advisory in the densely populated area.

“To the extent travel between the states is non-essential, it should be avoided,” Cuomo said.

Public health experts say the numbers have been climbing at a rapid clip in the Northeast as states have loosened restrictions, students have returned to classrooms, colder weather has made people more likely to congregate indoors, and resistance has grown in some New York City neighborhoods to wearing masks and social distancing.

Connecticut and the other states in the region — New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont — all have positivity rates of less than 2 percent, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Center.

“A low rate of positivity in testing data can be seen as a sign that a state has sufficient testing capacity for the size of their outbreak and is testing enough of its population to make informed decisions about reopening,” the center said.

The World Health Organization advises governments that before reopening they must maintain a testing positivity rate of 5 percent or lower for 14 days.

California’s, for example, is 2.44 percent. Maryland’s is 2.29 percent.

At the other end of the spectrum, Nevada’s positivity rate is nearly 46 percent followed by South Dakota, with a rate of 37 percent, Idaho at 29 percent, and Wyoming and Iowa, which both have around 21 percent testing rates, the Johns Hopkins figures show.

Despite those high rates, Trump has continued to push for a rapid reopening of the country’s economy and schools even after he was hospitalized for three days with the coronavirus.

Back on the campaign trail, Trump has also defended his administration’s pandemic response before audiences where there is next to no mask wearing or social distancing.

The U.S. continues to lead the world in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases (8.2 million) and Covid-19 deaths (221,328).

Many of the new infections have been in Midwestern and Mountain states that weren’t hit as badly as the Northeast and the West Coast in the early days of the pandemic, the latest figures show.

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