Editorial: Time for the next phase in state’s COVID response

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont gives an update on the state's ongoing COVID-19 efforts at Stamford Hospital in Stamford last week.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont gives an update on the state's ongoing COVID-19 efforts at Stamford Hospital in Stamford last week.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

The COVID crisis, as anyone who has been following the numbers will tell you, is not over. Positivity rates are far higher than they were in advance of the omicron wave, and hospitalizations have followed a similar wave. Fortunately, it seems possible that wave may have peaked, and numbers could be headed down again. Either way, it remains a serious situation.

Such a crisis demands an unprecedented government response, and that’s what Connecticut has seen. Early in the pandemic, way back in spring 2020, the state Legislature granted Gov. Ned Lamont emergency powers to help weather the worst of the storm. It was the right move, especially at a time when it was unclear whether the Legislature could even meet safely. The first wave of illness took a huge toll on the state, but strong leadership helped Connecticut persevere.

Since then, the pandemic has ebbed and flowed, but some version of the emergency powers remained. Whatever unity surrounded their initial enactment, however, has long since disappeared, with opponents inaccurately portraying the governor as some kind of power-mad despot. “King Ned,” they liked to call him, while ignoring that the Legislature not only granted the governor his extended powers, but retained the authority to take them away.

Over and over, though, Lamont sought an extension of the expanded authority, arguing that the crisis remained in effect and it was important to remain nimble in taking on its challenges. Now, though, he’s saying he doesn’t plan to ask for another extension for the current round, which ends in mid-February. Again, this is the right call. It’s time to move to the next phase.

It would be wrong to think politics don’t play some role in all this. The governor is running for reelection, and COVID restrictions, much as we might wish otherwise, have become deeply politicized. Lamont probably wants to see the Legislature involved in future decision-making on this issue.

But that’s not the main point. Lawmakers are coming back into session in February, and Lamont is asking them to codify some executive orders to guarantee a certain level of safety going forward. While legislative leaders have expressed some hesitation on this request, it shouldn’t be too much to ask.

That doesn’t mean we need to have another debate about the efficacy of masks in schools. Asking lawmakers to take a more active role in securing the state does not mean rehashing the same debates we’ve been having for two years.

But it is time for the next phase of our response. It’s not because the crisis is over — clearly, it’s not. But lawmakers themselves, including many Democrats, have said they want to see an end to emergency power authorizations. Now that the governor is seemingly following through on that request, they should take him up on it. They can be the leaders they were elected to be.

Lawmakers may choose to be more stringent than the governor wanted to be in fighting COVID. That’s up to members to decide. There are worthy arguments in that direction. What’s important is that they’re part of the process.

We are not done fighting COVID. The emergency remains. But it’s time for the next phase of our response.