NEW MILFORD — Another uptick in COVID-19 cases marks the beginning of the holiday season across the state and in New Milford.
Towns across Litchfield County are seeing a large uptick in cases similar to the one experienced last winter.
“It is disheartening because this is exactly where we did not want to be,” said Health Director Lisa Morrissey.
In October, Morrissey sat down with New Milford Mayor Pete Bass to discuss what she knew might be coming.
“I said, ‘Alright, buckle up, you know what’s coming for Thanksgiving.’”
Between last Friday and Monday, Bass reported that 41 new cases had cropped up in New Milford. He had previously reported another 19 cases between Wednesday and Friday of last week.
Seven more cases were reported Tuesday afternoon, per Bass’s daily Facebook update.
When the state released its most recent town-by-town data on Wednesday, New Milford had logged 41 cases during both weeks of the two-week reporting period. The case rate was 21.9 cases per 100,000 residents.
Data has not been released yet this week.
Morrissey expects the town’s cases to grow even more before hitting its peak. Viral spread during Thanksgiving celebrations will likely not be accounted for until later this week, she said. And the holiday season is just getting started.
The trend is one seen across the state. On Tuesday, Connecticut hit its highest single day case rate — 5.96 percent — in several months. The last time the positivity rate surpassed 6 percent was Jan. 24, according to state data.
Nursing home deaths across the state are increasing for the first time since August, with five of the 12 recent deaths occurring at New Milford’s Candlewood Valley Health and Rehabilitation Center, the Associated Press reported Friday.
The Danbury area is seeing a slight increase in cases, but so far the uptick is not as great as it is in other counties.
The weather is getting colder again, and as people go back inside, the virus is spreading more easily.
Lately, the omicron variant, a “variant of concern” detected by South African scientists last week, has caused renewed anxiety across the globe. Omicron has not yet been detected in the U.S., and Morrissey said it’s too soon to say how the variant may affect Connecticut. However, her department is already fielding calls from concerned residents.
Bass said residents need to be vigilant and get their vaccines and booster shots. If it’s possible to take gatherings outside, he said hosts should do so.
“I hope people that haven’t [been vaccinated], begin to see the research now. We’ve had quite some time, almost a year,” he said. “There’s almost a years worth of research that you can see with the millions upon millions of doses that have been given out.”
Despite high case rates, Bass said the town does not have plans to reinstate any masking mandates or cancel in-person holiday events.
Toward the end of the week, Bass plans to reach out to other mayors and first selectmen in Litchfield County to discuss trends and plans of action.
This summer, viral spread in New Milford was driven mainly through travel out of state. That is no longer the case.
So far, cases have been largely driven by unvaccinated youth — a trend which has continued for several months now. While breakthrough cases in adults and seniors are being reported, Morrissey said the majority of cases have stemmed from the younger, unvaccinated demographic, and appears to occur during social gatherings outside of school, like birthday parties and get-togethers.
Youth infections can jump to siblings and even sometimes parents or other adults within homes.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the school district had reported 20 active cases, according to its online COVID tracker. By Monday’s report, this number dropped to 15, with 45 students quarantining.
Yet, the current active case count is still greater than the district’s previous November high of 13 active cases.
Superintendent Alisha DiCorpo did not respond for comment.
As of Nov. 24, 52 children in Brookfield were quarantining with the majority located at Whisconier Middle School. Two staff had also tested positive, but no cases were reported among students.
In Danbury, 22 cases have been reported over the past 10 days period, according to the district tracker.
Neither Bass nor Morrissey could point to a specific reason why Litchfield County and New Milford were seeing this increase.
Danbury area officials were also stumped when the state data came out last week, showing their area was seeing slower viral spread. Some pointed to a joint communication effort among leaders, while others said it was the high vaccination rate.
Still, Fairfield County municipalities said they are expecting further case load increases in the coming weeks.
Morrissey said residents should assess their own personal risk and risks associated with specific activities.
“People really do need to take a look and determine what level of risk are you most comfortable with?” she said.
“What we can say to people is do your due diligence,” Bass said, especially if you’re headed into densely packed indoor areas.
“If you’re not vaccinated, you’re supposed to be wearing your mask.”