Editorial: State must chart own path through virus

Gov. Ned Lamont is willing to ignore a new guideline from a federal agency that says no need to test people who have no coronavirus symptoms. Contact tracing, and testing, is an important tool in Connecticut for limiting the spread of the deadly virus.In this photo, the governor attends the democratic convention in Hartford Aug. 20 for the nomination of Joe Biden for U.S. president.

Navigating through a deadly pandemic to protect as many people as possible requires government to rely on science, and a dose of common sense.

What we’ve seen with the grip of the coronavirus going on six months is that some policies, such as wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing, should be nationwide. But others can be considered state-by-state where conditions differ.

And so Gov. Ned Lamont and state health officials are right to ignore new advice from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that asymptomatic people need not be tested for the virus. This advice is questionable, at best.

Previous CDC guidelines called for testing those who had been within six feet of someone with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes. On Monday, inexplicably, the agency reversed and said test only those with symptoms.

People without symptoms can spread the virus. In Connecticut contact tracing and testing will continue, which is critical for containing the coronavirus from spreading in a community such as Danbury, where cases have spiked in recent weeks.

Less clear is how to balance the safety of nursing home residents with the emotional need for the elderly to see and touch loved ones.

Nearly three-quarters of the coronavirus deaths in Connecticut through July 30 were long-term care residents.

Closed to visitors since mid-March, nursing homes were allowed limited visits in June. On Thursday, Lamont and acting Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford announced relaxing the limits somewhat. Indoor visits of up to 30 minutes would be allowed with patients who are deteriorating with social isolation or are close to death.

“As long as there is no COVID in the facility those compassionate visits can go on,” Gifford said.

This seems right and reasonable.

Republican leaders said Friday, however, the new measures do not go far enough. All 14 members of the Senate Republican Caucus wrote to Lamont asking him to open indoor family visits for all nursing home residents, not just those in decline or near death.

“The negative impact of isolation on mental and physical health can be just as dangerous as the pandemic itself and must not be overlooked,” the Republicans wrote.

This is a empathetic response to families who feel helpless separated from their elderly loved ones for months.

But before that could happen, if health officials agree, another change is required: Testing must increase.

Initially in June Lamont’s executive order required nursing home staff to be tested for the virus every week. Later he amended that to let the facilities stop testing if they had no positive results for 14 days.

Recently two nursing homes, in Hamden and Hartford, were each fined $1,140 for failing to comply.

Now one-quarter of a nursing home’s staff has to be tested every week, which amounts to each worker tested once a month. Is that enough?

Connecticut must assess what practice works best here, on all fronts, and be ready to pull back if evidence shows the coronavirus resurging.

Connecticut Media Group