Lamont nixes idea of targeted shutdowns to combat COVID spikes

WESTPORT — The state’s top economic official said Thursday shutting down part of the state could be an option to combat spikes in COVID-19, a potential strategy that Gov. Ned Lamont later said he did not support.

Some communities have seen recent increases of COVID cases, particularly among teenagers and young adults. For example, Greenwich health officials have reported spikes after instances of young people attending large gatherings while not practicing social distancing.

David Lehman, commissioner for the state Department of Economic and Community Development, suggested the partial shutdown scenario in response to a question by Westport First Selectman James Marpe during Thursday’s ReOpen Westport Advisory Team meeting.

“I think if we do see increased virus, or significantly increased virus, I think we’re prepared to take very quick action and address it,” Lehman said. “That could mean whether it’s industries, activities, certain regions — could there be small lockdowns? I think that’s possible.”

Lehman said a culture of compliance and self-policing has been key in the state’s success mitigating the virus so far. But, he said, the state’s reopening team has also done “war-game” planning in case there is a second wave of the novel coronavirus and people should not become complacent.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re not going back to those dark days of late March or early April because that’s not anything we should have to repeat,” he said.

Lehman later told Hearst Connecticut Media the state is in a different position than it was in March when the governor first established stay-home directives. Now, officials have a lot more knowledge of the virus and where it is and how much it is spreading

“We’re doing a lot more testing,” he said. “So the risk of a full state shutdown is low. ... A state’s ability to kind of dial up and down activity is a lot better now.”

As with all executive orders, ones that would restrict some activities in parts of the state and not others would need to be vetted by lawyers in the governor’s office. Still, if there were a localized outbreak, the governor could conceivably order restaurants in Fairfield County, for example, be pared back to 25 percent capacity from 50 percent.

“Do I think that’s in the toolbox? Yes,” Lehman said. “Have we had to consider it yet? No. ... I think it depends on what is the incidence in that region.”

Administration officials said the idea of state-ordered targeted shutdowns as a possible response had been discussed.

But late Thursday, the governor had another take on the scenario.

“I’d put it a different way,” Gov. Ned Lamont said during his afternoon briefing. “Generally, I’ve thought about the state as one. So when it came to bars and restaurants, I didn’t want people driving back and forth across the state to go around Westport to find a bar somewhere else. That didn’t seem to make good sense to me.”

Lamont did say there was one situation that might warrant unique treatment.

“I think when it comes to schools though, I can see why you’d break that down on a county basis,” he said.

If there were to be a spike or more community spread in one region than another, that might impact how the state handles schools, because, Lamont said, they “are by definition a lot more local.”

Staff writer Dan Haar contributed to this report.