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April 17, 2020

Free at last? Not so fast: Elicker outlines ‘adaptive response’ to COVID crisis

City Community Services Administrator Mehul Dalal, who on Thursday’s Zoom briefing described the city’s four part strategy for loosening restrictions on civic and commercial life.

Two hours before President Donald Trump outlined a framework for reopening the United States for business following the near-complete shutdown of economic life in response to the coronavirus crisis, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker revealed his own plan for loosening restrictions as the medical crisis gradually comes under control.

It was one of very few common attributes shared by the two chief executives. (Also, they’re both bipeds.)

Actually, Elicker allowed his community services administrator, Mehul Dalal, to do most of the talking during his Thursday afternoon media briefing in laying out what he called a “data-driven approach” to easing restrictions on businesses and public life generally in the City of Elms.

Dalal outlined an “adaptive response model” of “what our response might look like and our thinking in New Haven about the next phase of the epidemic,” he said. That approach stands on four legs:

  • A rigorous system of testing
  • Isolation of all infected people (or “individuals,” as city Public Health Director Maritza Bond invariably calls them)
  • Finding and identifying everyone who has been in recent contact with the infected
  • Quarantining all of those contacts in 14 days of self-isolation.

Elicker acknowledged the obvious: When you loosen restrictions on public gatherings and commercial activity that the number of COVID-19 cases will inevitably rise. “Because we will have a significantly increased number of people being tested, it’s likely we’ll see the number of cases that we’re identifying rise quite quickly,” he said.

“That isn’t necessarily an indicator that the virus is spreading more or less,” the mayor added. “I wanted to warn [the public] that you’re likely to see increased numbers of positive cases simply because of the fact that we’ll be testing more people.”

The public-health challenge is minimizing that increase in new contagions and hospitalizations. A rigorous testing protocol, unavailable in the first weeks of the emergency, is the key tool to accomplishing that.

Elicker emphasized that implementation of the new containment matrix did not for now bear on when business and public life restrictions might begin to be eased.

For now, they’re still being tightened. On Wednesday, Elicker announced that, beginning today (Friday), both retail-store workers and shoppers will be required to wear face masks inside all stores. Elicker yesterday said the response he had received to that new order had been almost unanimously positive.


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