'We are better than this': Fairfield First Selectwoman addresses tension around mask mandate

Fairfield First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick gives a thumbs up as she receives a COVID-19 vaccination from Jaime Vargas at Hartford HealthCare's new mass vaccination clinic on the west campus of Sacred Heart University, in Fairfield, Conn. March 10, 2021.

Fairfield First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick gives a thumbs up as she receives a COVID-19 vaccination from Jaime Vargas at Hartford HealthCare’s new mass vaccination clinic on the west campus of Sacred Heart University, in Fairfield, Conn. March 10, 2021.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

FAIRFIELD — First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick is urging residents to be respectful after several heated incidents erupted in town over state and local mask mandates.

“I realize tensions in our community are high and residents are feeling the stress of living in a pandemic for 17 months, I understand, because I feel it too,” Kupchick said in her recent town update.

Police were recently called to a school board meeting over the issue.

Kupchick said while debate is an important part of democracy, Farfield must act like a community. She said she was disappointed in some residents’ behavior on social media and when tempers flared at the school board meeting. She added that threatening messages and wishing COVID-19 on someone’s child because there is a difference in opinion is not acceptable.

“We are better than this,” Kupchick said. “The beauty of Fairfield should not just be on the surface, it must be reflected in our behavior and in our respect for one another.”

Her update also addresses concerns many people have shared in response to Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order requiring masks be worn in schools through Sept. 30, as well as the town’s mask mandate, which went into effect Aug. 23.

She makes it clear that “no town has the authority to override the governor’s statewide executive order” and explained the reasoning for the town’s mandate.

While Kupchick said everyone is advocating for what they believe is in their family’s best interest, as a first selectwoman responsible for 61,000 residents, she felt the temporary mask policy could help reverse the spike in the town’s COVID-19 transmission and hospitalizations.

The amount of new cases have steadily increased in the state over the last few weeks. As of Tuesday, Connecticut had more than 373,000 positive cases and a daily positivity rate of 2.97 percent, according to Governor Lamont’s recent press release. In the reporting period between Aug. 8 and Aug. 21, Fairfield’s average daily rate was 15.4 per 100,000 people with 81 cases reported in the first week and 53 reported in the second, according to the state Department of Public Health.

A total of 360 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized in the state with 78 of them coming from Fairfield County, the third highest behind Hartford and New Haven counties, according to the state.

These numbers along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moving Fairfield County into the most-severe “high transmission” category and the state moving the town into the red category, prompted Fairfield’s mask mandate.

“I felt it would be irresponsible to not implement a temporary mask policy, while the delta variant is moving through our community,” Kupchick said. “A big consideration for me was that the increase in all of the metrics could impact the return to full in-person learning or put our most vulnerable residents at risk.”

“I understand the frustration of people who were told if you get the vaccine you won’t have to wear a mask anymore, and then received revised guidance that said you should wear a mask whether you are vaccinated or not. I am frustrated too,” she added.

Kupchick said vaccines have proven to be the most effective means to prevent serious illness and hospitalizations, but masks can be an added layer of protection. While vaccine breakthrough cases have occurred in Connecticut, Kupchick said in the majority of these cases, symptoms have been mild and have not resulted in severe illness or hospitalizations.

“The most severe cases tend to be in unvaccinated individuals,” Kupchik said.

When broken down by age group in Fairfield, residents 12 to 17 years old are 64 percent vaccinated, ages 18 to 24 are 54 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.

“I have done my best to guide our town through the pandemic and make thoughtful decisions,” Kupchick said. “I know any decision I make has broad reaching implications, and I don’t make decisions of this magnitude without serious contemplation.”