Lack of mask-wearing is causing uptick in Waterbury COVID-19 cases, officials say

New Haven

WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — Waterbury’s recent uptick in COVID-19 cases has caused the city to be added to the COVID Red Alert list in Connecticut, and the city’s Director of Emergency Management said the city’s robust contact tracing unit is giving them a good idea as to how the virus might be spreading.

“It seems to be more based on a familial relationship,” said Adam Rinko, Director of Emergency Management. “Intergenerational living or within just parties — birthday parties — things along that nature. We’ve really just primarily seen it as a single point, person-to-person spread from one infected individual to the next infected individual where masks and social distancing were either not possible or worn.”

Rinko said the city received an $800,000 grant from Governor Ned Lamont to continue the city’s contact tracing program for the next two years. News 8 got exclusive access to the contact tracers Friday. However, due to privacy laws, no recording of any of their conversations was permitted.

Rinko said contact tracing is critical in stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

“Trace contacting is obviously our biggest tool right now to let people know if they are not symptomatic but they may’ve been exposed to get tested,” he said.

News of the city now being part of the COVID Red Alert was on the minds of several people in a long line of those waiting to get tested outside St. Mary’s Hospital.

“It’s nerve-wracking and makes you very aware,” said Amy Yarrington, who lives in nearby Naugatuck.

Despite the uptick, Rinko said there’s good news in Waterbury regarding the pandemic. First, he said the number of people seeking tests has recently doubled.

“It means people really are taking this seriously,” Rinko said.

And while those numbers are going up, the number of people in the hospital at St. Mary’s for COVID-19 is low compared to the levels during the height of the pandemic in early spring.

“There are six cases in the hospital,” said Dr. Peter Jacoby, who runs the Emergency Department at St. Mary’s Hospital for Trinity Health of New England.

Compare that number to what they saw earlier in the year at St. Mary’s…

“Oh, we were probably upwards of 40 or 50 patients in the hospital. Certainly, we had 30 plus in the Intensive Care Unit at the true height of the pandemic.”

Dr. Jacoby and Rinko are two members of the mayor’s Coronavirus Task Force. Mayor Neil O’Leary has to decide by Monday if the city should remain at Phase 3 or scale back down to Phase 2.

No official word has come from city hall, but News 8 posed the question to Rinko.

“I don’t believe we’re moving to Phase 2,” said Rinko. “I believe we’re going to remain on Phase 3. Our Contact Tracing Unit has identified no particular event, no particular area, no particular building, no particular business that has led to some sort of outbreak.”

Rinko does say the city will double its efforts on testing. Two new pop up sites open this weekend — one at 220 West Main St. and the city’s normal Tuesday site on Union Street.

More information can be found on the city’s website.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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