Fairfield encourages but doesn’t mandate masks

A sign requiring masks or face covering hangs on the front door of the Morton Government Center in Bridgeport on Aug. 11.

A sign requiring masks or face covering hangs on the front door of the Morton Government Center in Bridgeport on Aug. 11.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

As the mayors of Connecticut’s largest cities use the authority granted to them by Gov. Ned Lamont to institute mask mandates, many of their suburban counterparts in the area will not be following suit.

At least, not yet.

Fairfield First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick said she’s encouraging residents wear masks indoors per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, but stopped short of issuing a mandate.

“Since Fairfield’s positivity rate is low and our vaccination rate is high and continues to grow, I will not be instituting a mask mandate at this time,” she said. “I will continue to monitor the situation with our health director and emergency management director.”

Fairfield’s vaccination rate was 68.3 percent as of Aug. 4, she said, adding vaccination is the “most important defense against severe illness and hospitalization from COVID-19.”

The Griffin Health mobile vaccination van will be in Fairfield from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Aug. 17 at Greenfield Hill Congregational Church, 1045 Old Academy Road. It will have out both Pfizer, which is approved for ages 12 and older, and Johnson & Johnson, which is approved for ages 18 and older.

Kupchick said the current state policy doesn’t require masks outdoors or for vaccinated individuals indoors. Unvaccinated people must still wear masks under the policy, as well as everyone in certain settings, such as healthcare facilities, public transportation, correctional facilities, schools, childcare and places housing vulnerable populations.

Businesses have the option to require masks be worn by everyone in their establishments.

“I have already witnessed an increased use of masks indoors throughout our community,” Kupchick said.

Ansonia, Derby, Trumbull and Stratford have also not issued masking mandates.

Bridgeport , New Haven and Stamford , meanwhile, have all instituted some form of citywide vaccine mandates for businesses and public places. This has meant crossing borders will now lead to different mask requirements — even for businesses with multiple locations in the state.

Such a sporadic approach, with mask rules changing by town or from one street to the next along a municipal border, can put business owners in a tough spot.

Martin McCarthy operates the Fire Engine Pizza Co. in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport. Its location near the Fairfield line means his restaurant must require masks, while other eateries a one-minute drive south on Fairfield Avenue do not.

“How are you going to have it here in Bridgeport and not in Fairfield? There’s no continuity,” McCarthy said. “I will follow the rules. But now I have to play ‘COVID cop’ again or pay another person to stand at the front door at all times and risk the ridicule.”

McCarthy also has a Shelton location of Fire Engine Pizza Co., and while the staff and patrons at the Bridgeport location are wearing masks, in Shelton they aren’t.

He would like to see an across-the-board state mandate which, he said, would ease the burden of enforcement on businesses. Informing customers that they must wear a mask has the potential to quickly escalate into a hostile confrontation, he said.

“I’ve been swung at,” he said. “I make good food and beverages. I’m not a police officer.”

Wayne Pesce, president of the Connecticut Food Association, shares McCarthy’s concerns. Last year, just days into the pandemic, the association helped craft agreed-upon state regulations for supermarkets to avoid just such a confusing patchwork of rules.

He said a statewide mandate would be “much easier” for his members, particularly chains with stores in multiple towns, to manage. Still, the association so far has not implemented its own mask rule.

“We will comply with local ordinances and where we don’t (have those), will work with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines,” he said. “That’s the bottom line for us.”

The Connecticut Restaurant Association, with members in 169 state towns, similarly is not recommending its members adopt a uniform mask rule. Scott Dolch, the group’s executive director, said he was worried about how mask mandates would change the perception of people who wanted to go out for dinner.

“Does a consumer go, ‘I don’t want to go into Bridgeport tonight. I’d rather stay in the suburbs,’” Dolch said. “Does it strike a sense of, ‘Bridgeport must be worse if the mayor’s putting in a mandate? I might need to stay out in the suburbs. Why is Bridgeport having a mandate and not Westport? Is there something I don’t know about?’”

Dolch’s message to diners is that, while cases and hospitalizations may be on the rise in Connecticut, the state still has a relatively low infection rate and a relatively high vaccination rate.

“We’re not Florida. We’re not Louisiana. We’re not Georgia,” he said.

McCarthy anticipated eventually the state would simply re-institute a mask mandate.

“I’m sure at some point it will all change and be across-the-board,” he said. “But at what point?”

Staff writers Brian Lockhart, Ethan Fry, Eddy Martinez and Brian Gioiele contributed to this report.