'We're in the fourth quarter': As the Danbury area sees the lowest COVID-19 rates since last fall, leaders are cautiously optimistic

Photo of Currie Engel

After months of aggressive vaccination campaigns, warnings about social distancing, and continued vigilance, most Danbury-area towns are now reported to have negligible average daily COVID-19 rates per 100,000 residents.

The system, which was put in place last fall, marks which areas are seeing high rates of COVID-19 infection using a color scale: red, orange, yellow, and gray.

Since it was implemented, the Danbury area has remained solidly in the “red zone” until the past month. The “red zone” means the area is hitting 15 or more cases per 100,000 residents per day over a two-week period and is the worst and highest ranking.

Yet, from the start of May, most towns in the area have steadily declined in their average daily rates until the majority finally reached the lowest “gray zone” ranking for the first time in many months this week, meaning they reported an average of less than five cases per 100,000 residents each day for two weeks now.

“I’m hopeful that we’re going to see numbers keep declining as we move through the summer,” said Danbury Mayor Joe Cavo.

Across the state, there is only one town still in the “red zone,” with another 10 towns remaining in the “orange zone” logging 10 to 14 cases per 100,000 residents per day over a two-week period.

Danbury and New Fairfield are the only two areas that are still in the “yellow zone,” while nearly all other surrounding towns are in the “gray zone,” including New Milford, Brookfield, Bethel, Ridgefield, Redding, Newtown, Washington, and Kent.

Across the state, there were just 157 new cases, three deaths, and one hospitalization reported on Thursday.

Since May 20, Danbury’s new COVID-19 case numbers have been in the single digits and on Tuesday, the city reported just two new cases of the virus, a number which hasn’t been seen since October 14, according to data compiled by the News-Times.

In Ridgefield, First Selectman Rudy Marconi reported zero new cases on Wednesday and Thursday, and the town now has a 0.6 percent positivity rate as of Thursday night.

“We seem to have reached the end of the tunnel, which is good news.”

While they’re encouraged by the data, local leaders are still being cautious with their return to normalcy. While many are going ahead with Memorial Day events and have plans for the 4th of July, they’re hesitant to let their guard down too soon.

“I still want to take a very cautious approach,” said Cavo, who kept Danbury’s mask mandate in place after Gov. Ned Lamont lifted it on May 19. “I prefer to take baby steps in each direction because if I take a baby step forward and something goes awry, I can just take a baby step back.”

Cavo plans to officially lift the mandate at the Town Hall Tuesday.

Mayor Pete Bass of New Milford used a sports analogy to explain how the town was doing with it’s battle to bring COVID rates down and continue vaccinating.

“I think we’re in the fourth quarter. We still have some work to,” he said.

Mostly, local leaders are still trying to up their vaccination numbers. From encouraging those who haven’t been vaccinated yet to do so, to planning for booster shots in the fall, there is still work to be done, they said.

The state still sits at a total vaccination rate of 49.6 percent fully vaccinated, and 58.3 percent who have initiated their vaccination as of May 26. Priority ZIP codes are still lagging, with just 37.6 percent fully vaccinated.

In Danbury, a little over half of those aged 15 to 44 have been vaccinated, and 74 percent of those aged 45 to 64. All of their residents over 65 have been vaccinated.

“We’re not there yet,” said Mayor Joe Cavo of reaching herd immunity. “We still have to get quite a few more folks vaccinated before I’ll declare a victory lap in this.”

First Selectman Steve Dunn said he’s not “perfectly happy” with their current vaccination rate and is hoping they can eventually make it to 90 percent. He has been encouraging residents to take it slowly as they head into the summer.

Brookfield has over 62 percent of those 15 to 44 vaccinated, along with nearly 73 percent of those 45 to 64.

Both Dunn and Cavo mentioned that they are still wearing masks in public places— whether they’re picking up a breakfast sandwich or or shopping in a store— even though they’re fully vaccinated.

Over in Ridgefield, Marconi is confident that with a little more time, they will reach over 75 percent fully vaccinated, or herd immunity status, but still urges caution until that point.

Recently, Marconi and other town leaders decided to reinstate their Fourth of July fireworks celebration, citing the “incredible, incredible progress that our community and state have made.”

While the immediate results look good, the impact of the summer months, holidays gatherings, and a loosening of mandates in the long run might take some time to see.

“By August, we will have a very, very good idea of how well this program has worked,” Dunn said.