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Eight more communities, many in southeastern Connecticut, were identified Thursday by state public health authorities as “red alert towns” after their daily rates of new COVID-19 infections surpassed 15 per 100,000 people since last week.

There are now 19 cities and towns on the weekly list that now have the option of rolling back the state’s third phase of reopening. Residents there are also being urged to wear masks, socially distance, frequently wash their hands, stay home if they’re over 65, cancel gatherings and events with nonrelatives, and get tested regularly, even if they’re healthy.

While concerned with these localized spikes, Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont said there are signs of improvement since state and local health officials began ramping up testing and contact tracing in the region several weeks ago.

For example, the rate of infection in New London was 46.9 infections per 100,000 people in last week’s update and is now down to 43.7, while Norwich was 50 per 100,000 people and is now 40.7.

“So when we bring in the rapid response, over a period of time, I think we are able to get this contained,” Lamont said.

Both communities, however, still have the highest rates in the state.

Two other southeastern Connecticut communities, East Lyme and Preston, were removed from the list, while Groton, Lisbon, Waterford, Plainfield and Salem were added. In other parts of the state, East Hartford, Norwalk, Fairfield, Prospect and Waterbury were identified as red alert communities.

Besides Norwich and New London, Sprague, Windham, Canterbury, Griswold and Montville in eastern Connecticut remained on the list, as well as Hartford and Danbury.

As of Thursday, the statewide positive rate was 2.3%, with 232 people in the hospital, an increase of 19 since Wednesday. Lamont noted that is far fewer than during the height of the pandemic in Connecticut, when there were about 2,000 hospitalizations.

Besides having more hospital capacity now, Lamont noted, patients are spending less time in the hospital and are less likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit.

Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, said a quarter of Connecticut’s hospital beds are unused right now, without taking steps such as canceling elective procedures. Also about half of the state’s roughly 1,000 ICU beds are being used.

There have been 4,569 COVID-related deaths in Connecticut, an increase of two since Wednesday.

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