Regina Sung, Contributing Photographer

COVID-19 numbers in New Haven County have seen an increase in recent weeks, though government officials are still unsure as to how alarmed the increase should make them.

At a Monday press conference with Mayor Justin Elicker, New Haven Director of Health Maritza Bond announced that her office cannot be sure if the city’s rate of new cases has advanced past the moderate category. The remarks came after Elicker announced updated COVID-19 data for the city. According to Elicker, the city has had approximately 3,438 cases and 114 fatalities since the pandemic began. The number of infections has grown at a low but steady rate since new upticks were first recorded in late August. 

Bond said the city remains in the “Yellow” category of new daily cases, meaning the Elm City is seeing five to nine new cases per 100,000 people per day. The Yellow category is the second warning level in the city’s COVID rate assessment. But gaps in case data from various city labs have prevented the city from saying with certainty that the city remains at the Yellow level, Bond said. 

“When [reporting issues] occur, that causes us to have a lag in being able to report our data, which does not depict an accurate picture of where our cases may be.” Bond said. “For example, [the data] may say we are in the yellow when in reality we are at moderate to high risk.”

The “Orange” level is the step above the Yellow level. It describes a rate of 10 to 14 new cases per 100,000 people a day.  According to the New Haven COVID-19 Hub, at the orange level, scaling back public events and keeping at-risk individuals at home would be encouraged. Bond said she could not discount the possibility that this is the current level in the city due to the lack of data. 

At the press conference,  Bond also listed the labs whose reporting issues she said have limited the city’s ability to precisely monitor the changing rates of COVID-19 infection. These are the Broad Institute Lab, an affiliate of the Yale University Lab system, and the DOCS Urgent Care Lab. 

Accuracy limitations within New Haven’s data, Bond added, will continue to affect the CT Department of Health’s ability to issue accurate public health categorizations and warnings for New Haven County. 

Both Bond and Elicker took time during their statements to remind New Haven residents of the factors spreading the virus. Elicker said that, similar to other places across the United States,  small family and friend gatherings have caused recent outbreaks in New Haven. The mayor attributed the growth in gatherings to the less-cautious manner in which people interact with family members. Bond added that improper mask use and prolonged socialization between coworkers have also played into the city’s most recent infection uptick.

“We’re continuing to see our cases increase in New Haven and the region, and that’s obviously very concerning,” Elicker said at the press conference. “If people do feel the need to see family or friends in small groups they should be doing so outside with masks and continuing to practice social distancing.”

Elicker also mentioned that carpooling is an additional factor in the increasing case numbers in the city and the state. In light of students returning to school, the Board of Education has set strict protocols for how students should get on and off buses and how far away from each other they should sit. 

Ward 1 Alder Eli Sabin ’22, who serves on the Health and Human Services Committee with the Board of Alders, said the committee is focusing especially on communicating current health guidelines with business owners and relaying public health updates and expectations to community members through newsletters and social media. 

“We need to keep our guard up,” Sabin said. “With cases rising across the state this is not the time to get complacent, and we need to make sure we continue to remind everyone in New Haven to follow all protocols.”

The first positive case of COVID-19 in a New Haven resident was recorded on March 13 of this year. 

Thomas Birmingham | thomas.birmingham@yale.edu