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Required state employee masking, vaccinations in discussion

August 2, 2021 GMT

GROTON, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday that his administration is discussing with state employee union leaders the possibility of required mask wearing, COVID-19 vaccinations or testing requirements for certain workers, calling the talks “very positive” so far.

“I would just tell you that we’re all on the same page. We want to keep people safe. We want to keep state employees safe. We want to keep those that they’re in contact with (safe) and there is broad agreement on that,”” said the Democrat during an event in Groton about legislative affecting military spouses. “And I think the conversations were very positive.”

Lamont said “the different variables” are going to be be figured over over the next week or two. The discussions come as Connecticut continues to see more cases of the highly contagious Delta variant and some groups of state employees in “forward-facing” positions who deal with patients with special needs and inmates have relatively low vaccination rates of about 40%, he said.

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State data released Monday show there have been 1,245 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut reported since Friday. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 227.4, an increase of 225.5%, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins.

Meanwhile, the number of COVID-related hospitalizations increased by 32 patients, for a total of 148.

Dr. Deidre Gifford, the acting Department of Public Health commissioner, said there are still several hundred thousands people in Connecticut who still need to be vaccinated. She said the rate of vaccination, however, has begun to pick up over the past several weeks, which she called a “really good sign.”

In other coronavirus-related news:

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EVICTION MORATORIUM

Connecticut court officials said Monday they were not expecting a surge in eviction filings. That’s because Lamont signed an executive order on June 30, the same day the state’s eviction moratorium expired, requiring landlords to apply to the state’s UniteCT rental assistance program prior to issuing an eviction notice to tenants for nonpayment of rent.

Among other things, Lamont’s order also requires a stay in eviction proceedings of up to 30 days if either the landlord or the tenant applies to the UniteCT program for relief.

“Although Congress didn’t act to extend the federal moratorium, because of the additional pre-filing requirements in the governor’s Executive Order 12D, we wouldn’t expect to see a surge at this time as previously indicated. This would be true for cases filed with the court on paper as well as electronically,” said Melissa Farley, executive director of external affairs for the Connecticut Judicial Branch in an email. She said Monday’s filings were “pretty much the same as usual.”

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MASK REQUIREMENTS

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Lamont said Monday he doesn’t foresee mandating that people wear masks. On Sunday, the Department of Public Health issued a recommendation that people, both unvaccinated and vaccinated, wear a face masks when they’re in an indoor public setting because of the growing number of cases.

“I think ‘strongly recommend’ is probably working,” Lamont said. “I think we’re going to keep going with that process a little bit longer unless the world changes under our feet.”

Meanwhile, a decision has not yet been made on whether schoolchildren will be required to wear masks when they head back to the classroom. Lamont said he hopes to give parents a couple of weeks notice.

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TELEWORK RULES

Lamont’s administration and state employee union leaders on Monday announced they have reached a new agreement through the rest of 2021 on teleworking and transitioning state employees back into the workplace.

The deal comes nearly a month after the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition sought a court injunction to stop Lamont from ordering workers to return to the office, accusing him of violating prior telework agreements reached with the unions and ignoring the benefits of having people work from home.

Under this new agreement, which runs through Dec. 31, there will be a 60-day reset period. During that time, employees who were teleworking prior to Lamont’s email informing workers they had to return on July 1, will have a choice of returning to their pre-July 1 schedule or continue with whatever is currently in place.

The 60-day period runs from Aug. 3 to Oct. 2. Among other provisions, the choice to return to the pre-July 1 schedule does not apply to hazardous duty employees.