Camillo Defends Mask Mandate: “The Argument about freedom – that I can’t buy”

During his weekly Wednesday Covid press conference with Greenwich Hospital president Diane Kelly, Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo discussed his decision last Friday to require universal masking, regardless of individual vaccination status, when social distancing is not possible, including at town hall and other town buildings, in offices, private businesses and in restaurants when it is not possible to practice social distancing.

The masking requirement is in response to the highly contagious Delta variant.

(Camillo also announced last Friday that all Town employees would be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no later than September 27. That is the same deadline as for all nursing home staff, state employees, and all staff in public and private K-12 schools statewide.)

Covid Numbers in Greenwich as of Wednesday

Greenwich has a cumulative total of 5,478 total cases (+81 from last week).

Another resident has died, bringing the death total to 90.

Covid cases per 100,000 was 14.1, up 1.5 from the previous week.

“Hopefully these measures will get us through this period where people are coming back into town and unfortunately bringing the virus with them,” Camillo said.

Diane Kelly said as of Wednesday the hospital was treating 11 Covid-positive patients, with two of them in ICU, and one of them on a ventilator.

Of the 11 hospitalized, 10 are not vaccinated. “That is a very important statistic,” she said.

“System wide, we continue to see a slow and steady increase,” Kelly said. “Today we are treating 136 Covid patients. Last week it was 117.”

Camillo said he planned to release additional clarification of the masking requirement shortly.

For now, he said, “When you go into a building in a common area, wear a mask. If you’re at a table, you’re at a desk, you don’t have to wear one. Or if you’re far away from people, you don’t have to wear one. It gets confusing because they don’t know what is a common area is. If you’re on line in a store, it’s a common area. If you’re walking around in a busy hallway, that’s a common area.”

He said in a gym, for example, if someone was on a treadmill 10 ft away from anyone else, they could take their mask off, though he said he keeps his on to send a message that he is taking Covid seriously.

“It’s just those times when you in buildings, in a common area, put it on. Same thing here in town hall where everyone is wearing them – when they get back to their desk, they take it off. When they’re speaking or eating, they take it off, as long as they’re not on top of somebody.”

“It’s just a temporary measure to get us through this. It’s not the end of the world,” Camillo said. “We were getting complaints that people going to gyms – the ones requiring a mask have already lost business because of it….The attempt here is not to hurt businesses.”

“There’s a lot of anxiety out there. There’s a lot of frustration out there. We all feel it,” he said.

Ms Kelly said at Greenwich Hospital, unless someone is alone in a room, everyone wears a mask.

Camillo said he had been receiving emails and text messages citing studies saying “masks were no good and didn’t work.”

He noted that per the American Journal of Medicine, The Annals of Internal Medicine, the CDC, the local and state health departments, Greenwich Hospital, and doctors all confirm that masking works.

“At the end of the day there will always be a website that will support your view,” he said. “People find them and seem to feed off them.”

Camillo said he understood hesitancy on the part of the people who had been waiting for the vaccine to have full FDA approval, or people reluctant because they have a medical condition.

But, he said, “The argument about freedom, that I can’t buy.”

“I can attack that argument all day long, but once they’re convinced that this is wrong and the virus wasn’t that strong, and this is being blown up – I’m finding that with certain people, you’re not going to convince them.”

Camillo said masking was a minor inconvenience. “We need to do it otherwise you’ll have even cancellations and capacity limits imposed on us by the state.”

He said the pushback he was receiving was not from within town hall, but rather from a minority of residents.

Camillo said he planned to meet the Governor in Hartford Thursday about tree clearing and noise abatement on I95, but would also talk about Covid and masking requirements.

Booster Shots

Ms Kelly said the hospital was starting to think through the process of administering the booster vaccine. Right now they are offering booster shots for patients who are immunocompromised, but they will follow CDC guidelines to expand eligibility. The boosters shots are Pfizer and Moderna and are being administered at 500 West Putnam Ave.

“We’ll be looking at how to expand that as the recommendations expand. People can certainly get their vaccinations at other sites – whatever is convenient. The Walgreens, the CVSs – they’re very easy to use.”

Importance of Masking, Social Distancing and Vaccination

During a Yale New Haven Health System press conference on Tuesday, Dr. Tom Balcezak the chief clinical officer, said public health measures were important in light of the rise in cases in the region due to the Delta variant.

Anticipating the situation in the fall, he said his hope was that if people get vaccinated and stick to public health protection measures, Covid might fade away like SARS did.

But, realistically he said he expected to be living with Covid for a long time.

“For example, in our health system, this time last year we only had a dozen cases in the hospital, but now there’s more than 100. I think we’ll see a handful to about 100 cases in a cyclical fashion across our health system in the next year or two.”

“Every time there is replication of a virus in a human, it makes the potential for a new variant to emerge,” Balcezak said. “All roads for hope of the future come back to stemming the spread through public health measures and vaccination.”

“Vaccinations and masking will have to continue to be part of our every day life,” said Chris O’Connor, President of the health system. “That’s the reality we’re in.”