Wallingford Criticized For Resuming In-Person Council Meetings

WALLINGFORD, CT — A “large portion” of Wallingford’s coronavirus cases in October came from a single event in town, according to Health Director Stephen Civitelli.

In an update to the Town Council this week, Civitelli said health officials were able to contact trace the confirmed COVID-19 cases to the event and found there were relationships with multiple people that also ended up impacting schools.

Civitelli provided the update at Tuesday night’s meeting, which was the first in-person Town Council meeting since April because of the coronavirus pandemic. The decision to resume in-person council meetings was criticized by several people on the Wallingford Patch Neighbor Post page and a speaker at the meeting.

Coronavirus cases have been on the rise in Wallingford in October. There were 20 confirmed cases as of Oct. 13, compared to 33 cases in September, 24 in August and 18 in July.

There were 1,928 tests conducted from Sept. 26 to Oct. 3 with a positive test rate of .7 percent, according to Civitelli.

Phase 3 of the state’s reopening, which increased indoor restaurant and personal service capacity from 50 to 75 percent, began Oct. 8 and Civitelli said health officials are trying to monitor reopenings with the cases and “how we react to that as a community.”

“We’re trying to monitor everything as best we can to try and get a grasp on where cases are and get to those quickly, so that we can identify the situation and try to isolate the people before it becomes a greater issue,” Civitelli said.

Civitelli, who was appointed this week to Gov. Ned Lamont’s Vaccine Advisory Group, compared Wallingford’s case rate to two cities that were recently assigned a “Red” alert level for the state’s coronavirus warning system. Towns in the red threshold have the option to scale back to the state’s second reopening phase.

Based on a new case rate per 100,000 population, New London had a 14-day rolling average of 30.5, Norwich was 46.9 and Wallingford was at 3.7, according to Civitelli.

The school district notified parents several times within the past week of confirmed COVID-19 cases at five different schools. Councilor Chris Shortell asked Civitelli if there is a concern about the school system.

Civitelli said “not at this point” because contact tracing showed the cases originated from within the community and were not spread from students in the same cohort at school.

“If we’re identifying where everything is coming from, that’s a good thing,” Civitelli said. “It’s when I can’t wrap my arms around it, and there’s no way where I can trace it back, then that’s where we’re back in April and early May where it was just so widespread. At that point, then you have true community spread. As of right now, it seems like it’s fairly steady.”

In-person meetings resume in Wallingford

Council Chairman Vincent Cervoni opened the meeting saying it was “appropriate” for the council to resume in-person meetings.

“In the past month, children of Wallingford have returned to school in a variety of ways that include in-person attendance,” Cervoni said. “Several of our boards and commissions have resumed in-person meetings. Therefore, it is appropriate that the Town Council resume in-person meetings. This is a decision that has not been made lightly.”

Cervoni said they consulted with the town’s health and legal departments and when the decision was made the town was “experiencing a consistent decline in reported cases of COVID-19.” The wearing of masks and social distancing rules must be followed at meetings.

“All of this having been said, we will continue to monitor the number of new cases of COVID-19,” Cervoni said. “In the event that we appear to experience a climb heading towards the predicted second wave, we would all agree that it would be wise to resume virtual meetings.”

Larry Morgenstein, who regularly attends and speaks at town meetings, told council members during the public question and answer period that he would not be coming to in-person meetings. Morgenstein said he had heart surgery in June and is “one of the vulnerable.”

“There’s plenty of people in this town who are vulnerable,” Morgenstein said. “There are people here in this audience that are vulnerable. There is risk being here.”

He said people will have to choose between their health and attending meetings.

“You know I’ve been here for years coming to these meetings because I take it very seriously that the public should have a chance not only for access but for participation,” Morgenstein said. “We have the capacity. You’ve demonstrated that and I don’t believe you’ve made this decision lightly but at the same time, for minimal money you can still provide that access. I won’t be coming back and I’ll be leaving this meeting immediately and I probably won’t be back to participate in any way. Maybe in some way some of you might feel good about that, maybe not.”

Morgenstein told council members to consider providing remote access and participation to upcoming in-person meetings.

“We have the capacity to do both,” he said. “If you choose to be in person, you can still offer that opportunity. I’m not asking for just one way or another. But we have the capacity to do both and I think the obligation to the public, not just for access but for interacting is really important, especially since we can do that.

“And that’s really all I have to say tonight. I don’t see it as an argument. I can’t be here. And I know other people won’t be here either. And I think that civically is a shame and a loss to this community.”

This article originally appeared on the Wallingford Patch

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