Fairfield officials promotes COVID vaccines amid worry delta variant causing 'a step backwards'

FAIRFIELD — As COVID-19 cases continue to climb due to the delta variant, some worry what it could mean for already struggling industries.

Fairfield, Easton and Westport’s mask mandates went into effect on Monday as a regional approach to the more contagious delta variant and officials are encouraging people to get vaccinated.

Clara Cavalli, owner of the Brick + Wood restaurant in Fairfield, said the restaurant plans to do anything they can to protect their staff and patrons, however, she admits that she has already seen a change over the last few weeks with the rise of the delta variant.

“I’m hoping that it is not a step backwards,” Cavalli said. “I’m hoping that we can progress forward, but I think you are going to have patrons that are going to not want to dine-in and do the outdoor dining and takeout once again. We’ve already seen our takeout increase by at least a 20 percent percentage already in the past few weeks.”

“It’s the shortage of workers that is the true point that is hurting all of the businesses,” she added. “We just can’t find enough people to fulfill the shortage and I think that is hurting the businesses more than any mask mandate.”

Sands Cleary, Fairfield’s health director said he hopes restaurants and other businesses won’t struggle.

“I hope people will be compliant and wear their mask,” he said. “As long as people are wearing masks, those restaurants can operate as they are now.”

Cleary said that the state and town have been encouraging residents to wear masks inside, whether vaccinated or not, for the last few weeks. However, since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moved Fairfield County into the most-severe “high transmission” category and the state moved the town into the red category last week, a mask mandate had to be implemented.

“Yes we’re having to put the mask back on, but with the change in the situation we have the delta variant that’s twice as transmissible and causing more hospitalizations so we want to make sure we’re taking a step to alleviate that and prevent it from becoming worse,” Cleary said.

Over the last few weeks, the amount of new cases have steadily been increasing within the state. As of Tuesday, Connecticut had more than 368,000 positive cases and a daily positivity rate of 3.83 percent, according to Governor Lamont’s recent press release. Fairfield’s average daily rate was 15.7 with 55 cases reported in the first week and 81 reported in the second, according to the state Department of Public Health.

Hospitalizations are increasing as well. A total of 391 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19, 95 patients coming from Fairfield County, according to the state.

Fairfield’s mask policy came as a regional response to this spread of the delta variant, as well as nearby cities, including Norwalk, Bridgeport and Stamford already putting mask policies in place. Cleary said despite what may seem like a set back, the community is going forward by way of vaccinations.

“We need to encourage people to get vaccinated,” he said. “That’s really what’s going to put an end to this, people getting vaccinated.”

Nearly 70 percent of Fairfield residents are vaccinated, according to recent state data.

When broken down by age group, residents 12 to 17 years old are 62 percent vaccinated, ages 18 to 24 are 53.8 percent vaccinated, ages 25 to 44 are nearly 75 percent vaccinated, ages 45 to 64 are just under 86 percent vaccinated and residents 65 and older are 93 percent vaccinated.

Generally, Cleary believes people are getting the shot, but said more can always be vaccinated.

He said he understands the skepticism around the vaccine, especially with the number of breakthrough cases that have occurred, but maintains vaccines are still the best defense.

“Vaccines are designed to prevent severe illness and deaths and it’s doing just that,” Cleary said. “The vast majority of people with breakthrough cases, have mild cases.”

Unvaccinated people are five times more likely to be hospitalized and ten times more likely to be admitted to the ICU, Gov. Ned Lamont said in a recent press conference.

“Just that in and of itself shows that it is effective,” Cleary said. “It was never said that it prevents all infections. The goal is to prevent hospitalizations and deaths and it’s doing just that.”

Despite the promotion of vaccines, the increasing fear of the delta variant has some worried that this rise of cases could lead the state and country back into a lockdown.

During the initial lockdown in 2020, almost every industry felt the impact of COVID-19. With the emergence of the delta variant, a lockdown could prove detrimental to these already struggling industries.

The Connecticut Restaurant Association, the National Restaurant Association and 50 other state restaurant association partners sent a letter to Congressional leadership on Tuesday in response to the delta variant uptick. The organizations are urging the government to step in and help the industry through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

“There are thousands of Connecticut small business owners stuck in limbo waiting to find out if Congress will act to provide the stability they need to make it through this new pandemic threat and into the future,” Connecticut Restaurant Association Executive Director Scott Dolch said in a statement. “The rise of coronavirus variants like delta threaten to push these restaurants closer to permanently closing their doors. It’s time for Congress to step in and fulfill the promise of the RRF.”

Cleary is skeptical another lockdown will happen and said the health department has looked to other countries. He said that in England, the country had a quick peak, but then the number of cases came down dramatically and leveled out. Now the health department is looking to the events of Israel where the numbers are currently rising.

“No one is entirely clear how quickly this wave will pass through our area,” Cleary said.