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Norwich and state officials to address COVID-19 spike Thursday

Norwich — Several city, school and local health officials will hold a news conference at 4 p.m. Thursday outside City Hall to address a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Norwich, which saw a rate of positive cases jump to 5% this week, compared to the state rate of about 1.8% Wednesday.

Officials from several city, health and human services agencies discussed the outbreak in teleconference calls Wednesday and at Thursday’s news conference will discuss the spike and will stress the need to wear masks, maintain social distancing and avoid large gatherings.

Uncas Health District Director Patrick McCormack also said he will recommend more people get tested for COVID-19.

City Manager John Salomone said Thursday’s news conference will be held to inform the public that the threat is not over, and they should use the prevention methods that are out there. “For some people, they have been lax about that lately,” he said.

The recent outbreak has extended beyond just Norwich, prompting Capt. Todd Moore, commanding officer of the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, to announce that the base would be instituting a number of measures starting Thursday. The base will limit gatherings to no more than 10 people, allow only active-duty personnel to use the barber shop and shut down the library and bowling alley.

McCormack said the recent spike in Norwich has not been tied to any one event, neighborhood or site, but is more communitywide. The state Department of Public Health calculated the city’s positivity rate at 5%, and McCormack said testing at the Backus Hospital’s mobile testing site recently showed a 6% positivity rate.

McCormack said Norwich has had 92 new cases of COVID-19 since Sept. 24, including 26 cases confirmed on Tuesday and another 12 on Wednesday. He said the news conference was scheduled to alert the public about the spike and to remind everyone to follow prevention guidelines.

He added a recommendation that more people get a COVID-19 test.

“We knew the numbers of people getting tested would increase,” McCormack said. “Our hope was that the positivity rate wouldn’t also be up. I encourage people to get tested, because it’s the only way to know the extent (of the spread) and to know that people are properly isolating and quarantining.”

Backus Hospital has free drive-thru COVID-19 testing from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to noon on weekends. Backus officials said appointments are not necessary but are recommended, because wait times can be up to two to three hours at certain times during the week. Call (833) 621-0600 to make an appointment or call your primary care physician to determine whether you should be tested.

On Wednesday, Gov. Ned Lamont called Mayor Peter Nystrom and offered the city the same “track and trace” assistance the state provided to Danbury, where the state declared a COVID-19 alert on Aug. 21 and asked residents to avoid gatherings and remain at home and vigilant on COVID-19 preventive measures. Nystrom said the state also is offering additional testing capacity.

“This is community-driven,” Salomone said, “which is what you don’t want. It’s different than Danbury, which was located in the central part of the city. This is more difficult when it’s so dispersed.”

Salomone said the contact tracing assistance is much needed, because the Uncas Health District does not have the staff to do extensive tracing for one to two dozen cases per day, as the city has seen in the past week.

Nystrom said city and local social services and health agencies will have a planning meeting Thursday morning prior to the news conference to discuss how the city can bring its COVID-19 numbers down.

“Clearly we’re very concerned,” Nystrom said. “We need to get the word out to people. Wear the mask.”

Quarantine assistance

Also on Wednesday, state officials announced a new effort to help people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to follow the strict quarantine and isolation requirements. The state has contracted with agencies in each of the five Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security regions to provide “community resource coordinators” to help individuals and families faced with the sudden need to quarantine and isolate due to a COVID-19 case or exposure.

The eastern Connecticut Region 4 covers 42 municipalities and the Mohegan and Mashantucket tribal nations in southeastern and northeastern Connecticut. The Thames Valley Council for Community Action was selected to provide the community resource coordinator for the entire region in partnership with the Access Community Action Agency in the northeast section of the region.

TVCCA Executive Director Deborah Monahan said the agency’s staff will work with local health districts and the state Department of Public Health, which do the main contact tracing when a COVID-19 case is detected.

If a person must suddenly quarantine and isolate, the community resource coordinator can help provide food, prescription drugs, isolated housing if necessary and other assistance. For example, if the person is alone, the agency could provide food gift cards for the person to order grocery deliveries, or work with meal delivery services to bring meals to the house. A person who needs to isolate from a family could be provided assistance to go to a hotel or other temporary housing, Monahan said.

“If they identify an individual or a family that needs support,” she said, “we have to figure out a way to help that person for the 14 days of quarantine and isolation. We figure out what person needs to safely quarantine and isolate.”

Overall, the state has seen 57,550 confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19, according to data released by the governor's office Wednesday evening. That was up by 221 from the number reported Tuesday. Three more associate deaths reported in that 24-hour period brought the state's total to 4,508. Twelve additional people were hospitalized with the disease, bringing the total to 104. Testing continues to increase, with 12,390 reported tests bringing the state's total to 1,591,572 so far.

New London County has seen 1,976 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday evening, an increase of 59 since Tuesday's report. Suspected cases remained unchanged at 77. There have been 88 confirmed deaths associated with the disease, up by one since data was reported Tuesday; one additional death suspected of being related to the disease brings the total for those deaths to 29. The county had 16 people hospitalized with the disease on Wednesday, three higher than on Tuesday.

c.bessette@theday.com

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