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Lamont to region on COVID-19 spike: You figure it out

There seems to be no limit to Gov. Ned Lamont's shabby treatment of eastern Connecticut, as he now would allow the region to fend for itself in coping with a worrisome spike in COVID-19 cases here.

This is, after all, the governor who has chosen not to even sit down to negotiate with two of the region's largest employers, the casino-owning American Indian tribes, on the issues of great importance to them and their thousands of employees: online and sports betting.

It is also the governor who has stiffed the region's shoreline capital, New London, denying the city any compensation or payment in lieu of taxes for the $157 million commercial makeover, to the benefit of rich utilities, the governor is planning for its harbor.

Gov. Lamont turned up in New London this week and announced that he was considering a new executive order — which he signed Tuesday — that would allow municipalities like New London and Norwich, facing a spike in COVID-19 cases, to roll back some of the easing of his pandemic restrictions.

This would include continuing old limits on the number of restaurant patrons and attendees at indoor and outdoor events.

Of course, when the biggest number of new cases were concentrated in the western end of the state, in the spring, the governor imposed statewide restrictions that applied to all.

Now that the danger from rising cases is more concentrated in eastern Connecticut, the governor is dividing the state for the purposes of rule making.

That geographic distinction may ultimately be good public policy at this stage of the pandemic. Indeed, it's a big state and one-size-fits-all restrictions may not make sense.

The problem is that the governor is not only allowing a geographic break in rules, he considered for the first time that the responsibility for imposing restrictions lies with municipalities, not the state.

He is delegating that responsibility. Now that towns and cities in eastern Connecticut are the most at risk, they can decide how to deal with it.

This proposed abdication of responsibility met with immediate resistance from both New London Mayor Michael Passero and Norwich Peter Nystrom, who can both recognize a buck when it's being passed their way.

And of course they are right to resist this shameful shirking of duty for protecting the public health of eastern Connecticut by the governor, a prince of Greenwich.

The mayors are right.

It is not their responsibility to establish pandemic rules to prevent the spread of the disease. They don't have the professional resources to make the necessary informed decisions.

Orders by the municipalities would not carry the weight of those imposed by the state.

More important, the municipal borders of small eastern Connecticut communities are porous. Many of us routinely travel across towns, and a risky environment in one town will pose almost the same risk to the next town over.

And why should the mayors of the region's two principal cities be made to impose restrictions on their own businesses while those in surrounding suburban communities get to live by more liberal rules? Not only would it not be effective but it would be grossly unfair.

Residents of eastern Connecticut cities wouldn't be allowed in larger numbers in restaurants in their own neighborhoods but would be pushed into the suburbs instead.

Lamont should do his job as governor of all of Connecticut and use the vast resources of state government to chart a course and help us in eastern Connecticut, as the pandemic tightens its grip here.

Eastern Connecticut has suffered the indifference of many recent Connecticut governors.

It seems Lamont has raised that indifference to a new level, contempt not only for our economic well-being but also our health.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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