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Region's health organizations begin receiving COVID-19 vaccine

As the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine continues in Connecticut, local health districts and federally qualified health centers in our region have begun ordering and receiving shipments.

The United Community & Family Services Health Center in Norwich received 600 doses of the Moderna vaccine Wednesday and began administering shots to its staff, including its chief medical officer, Dr. Ramindra Walia, who was the first employee to receive the vaccine, that afternoon.

Thirty staff members are expected to receive their first shots in the next two days. The health center has about 150 employees who are eligible to get vaccinated during the current round of inoculations, named Phase 1a, which prioritizes front-line health care workers and nursing home residents and staff. 

Next week, the health center will begin to open up appointments to area health care workers who are not affiliated with a hospital system, said Cara Westcott, the center’s chief operating officer.

After initially being told they would be getting involved later in the process, local health districts recently were asked by the state Department of Public Health to administer vaccinations during the current round, including to emergency medical personnel and first responders.

Steve Mansfield, director of Ledge Light Health District, said his district ordered 200 doses of the vaccine Wednesday that will be used to inoculate staff and members of its medical reserve corps. The district has been in touch with Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and other vaccine administrators in the area to find out who they are inoculating to find out what eligible populations it might be able to help vaccinate.

The expectation is that health districts will be able to order doses of the vaccine on a weekly basis as needed and provided supply is available.

“Getting vaccinated is an incredibly important tool in combating this pandemic,” Mansfield said. “It’s one more step towards normalcy.”

Patrick McCormack, director of Uncas Health District, said he wanted an additional week of planning, including visits by his staff to observe vaccine clinics, before placing an order next Wednesday with the hope of holding the district's first vaccine clinic on Jan. 5. He has not yet determined how many doses the district will request, but said it would likely be similar in size to Ledge Light's order.

Mansfield and McCormack said they are in regular contact with each other and other entities in the region that are part of the vaccine rollout. They emphasized that they’ve had to remain flexible as plans and information regularly change.

Hospitals are doing the bulk of vaccinations in this current round. To date, 16,487 doses of the vaccine have been administered through the hospitals. The state still is awaiting data about the number of doses administered at nursing homes, which is being done by CVS and Walgreens through a contract with the federal government.

At this point, the state doesn’t have enough doses to vaccinate every single health care worker, so it's asking employers to identify and prioritize those most likely to come into contact with patients positive for COVID-19. State officials have said the plan is to have everyone in Phase 1a vaccinated by the end of January.

Gov. Ned Lamont reported Wednesday that the state’s positivity rate is 6.08%, “more or less what it has been since the post-Thanksgiving surge,” a sign that the infection rate in the state has begun to stabilize.

But with Christmas and New Year's around the corner, a time that officials fear could lead to more outbreaks if people travel and gather as usual, Lamont said he’s concerned the state could see an increase in cases again.

He urged Connecticut residents to remain close to home and spend the holidays with members of their immediate families.

“It’s important you try not to fly unless you absolutely have to, and if you do, get tested and quarantine,” the governor said.

The areas that saw large spikes in cases following Thanksgiving “were the places where there was the most mobility, the most people traveling, the most people flying in and out,” Lamont said. “Let's not let that happen to our region and our state.”

Lamont on Wednesday also extended the state's moratorium on residential evictions through Feb. 9, 2021, and banned evictions until Jan. 2, 2021, as well as renewing the option to apply a portion of security deposits in excess of one month’s rent toward rent.

While hospitalizations were down by four to 1,155 Wednesday from a day earlier, there were an additional 32 coronavirus-linked deaths reported by the state, bringing the death toll to 5,735.

Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London said it was treating 27 COVID-19 patients Wednesday, while Westerly Hospital had 21.

Day Staff Writer Brian Hallenbeck contributed to this report.

j.bergman@theday.com

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