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    Tuesday, January 31, 2023

    Norwich COVID-19 outbreak is 'scattershot' across the city and age groups

    A United Community and Family Services employee distributes paperwork Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, to drivers in the queue for the mobile testing lab set up at the Edward and Mary Lord Family Health Center in Norwich. The city has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases in the last week, prompting a response from the state Department of Public Health and the shift to distance learning for the next two weeks by city schools. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Norwich — The city is reverting to a modified phase 1 COVID-19 response, with schools in remote learning, basketball hoops being removed and no in-person inspections as the city tries to stave off a coronavirus spike that puts Norwich at the highest infection rate in the state.

    Hours after the state Department of Public Health declared a COVID-19 alert for Norwich on Thursday evening, the city saw its highest daily total of new cases at 27, topping the previous high of 26 on Tuesday. From Sept. 24 through Oct. 1, Norwich has had 119 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 6.7% of tests coming back positive, according to Uncas Health District Director Patrick McCormack.

    Expanded sites have been set up in several locations throughout the city this weekend for free walk-up or drive-thru testing. Uncas Health District and local health agencies are receiving assistance by the state Department of Public Health and Gov. Ned Lamont’s staff to rapidly set up the testing sites and help with processing of tests, McCormack said.

    “DPH is working with local officials to get the word out in the community to take extra precautions for the time being, including: limiting trips outside the home, wearing masks anytime you leave home, avoiding indoor gatherings with those you don’t live with, and not attending large outdoor gatherings,” the COVID-19 alert announcement said.

    Acting state Commissioner of Public Health Deidre Gifford urged anyone who may have been exposed to someone infected with the virus to get tested. She also urged employers to emphasize the need for any employee who feels sick to stay home.

    Anyone who needs assistance with remaining home under quarantine or isolation should call 211 to arrange assistance. The state has contracted with the Thames Valley Council for Community Action to coordinate assistance for people in isolation, including food, prescriptions and possibly emergency housing.

    City and public health officials said the Norwich outbreak has no discernible source or triggered event. A map pinpointing the addresses of the positive cases — not being released to the public for privacy reasons — shows “scattershot” cases with no neighborhood showing higher concentrations than others, city leaders who have seen the map said. In total, 144 properties are shown with a total of 192 positive cases.

    The age range of cases also is spread out, except for fewer cases among older, more vulnerable age groups, and lower numbers for children and youths, McCormack said.

    “People in the upper age group are doing the greatest job in the staying home and social distancing,” McCormack said, “and they’re the most fearful.”

    Since July 1, Norwich has had 36 cases in people in the 30-39 age group; 30 in the 20-29 age range; 29 in 40-49 age group; 24 in the 50-59 age group; 21 among people 60-69; 16 in ages 10-19; 17 in infants to age 9; five cases in the 70-79 age group and six in people age 80 and over.

    McCormack said the district is trying to spread out testing sites to reach people in all neighborhoods. The Backus Hospital plans to move its drive-thru test site to the Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium to allow more room and reduce wait times.

    According to numbers released by the governor Friday evening, the state has seen 58,297 confirmed and probable cases so far, an increase of 460 from what the state reported Thursday. Those include 95 cases in “catch-up” reporting, the state said. Two additional deaths associated with COVID-19 were reported since Thursday evening, bringing the state’s total to 4,513. A backlog of tests also was reported, with 33,808 bringing the state's total to 1,673,975. Three more people were hospitalized with the disease Friday, bringing the state’s total to 110.

    New London County, which also is seeing a surge in cases in New London, has seen a total of 2,126 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 80 probable cases as of Friday evening — an increase of 117 and 2, respectively, since numbers were reported Thursday. One additional death brought the total suspected of being associated with the disease to 30, while confirmed related deaths remained unchanged at 89. Hospitalizations related to the disease increased by two from Thursday to Friday, for a total of 17, the state reported.

    The town of Groton posted Friday on Facebook that it had 44 new cases between Sept. 9 and 30. The town said the people infected were of a variety of ages and urged residents to “continue to stay vigilant and avoid any high risk activities.”

    Partial closure

    City Manager John Salomone and Norwich Public Utilities announced Friday that operations will revert to a phase 1 partial closure in response to the recent outbreak. Norwich police are requesting that residents use the online reporting portal on the police department’s page at norwichct.org to report nonemergency incidents or complaints.

    City offices and the police department lobby have been closed to the public except by appointment since mid-March.

    Salomone said next week he will consider whether to ask some city employees to work remotely to “thin out” the workforce in city offices.

    School Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow and Norwich Free Academy Head of School Brian Kelly on Thursday announced that schools reverted to fully remote learning starting Friday for at least two weeks, and NFA sports will be postponed through Oct. 19.

    Stringfellow said Friday that the Case Street preschool center, not run by Norwich Public Schools, will remain open, as is the child care program run by Norwich Recreation Department that serves many school staff's children. She is assessing whether students with high levels of special needs could resume in-person education four days a week.

    Norwich Regional Technical High School switched to remote access learning for next week after consulting with Norwich school officials and the Uncas Health District, said Kerry Markey, director of communications for the state technical high school system. All athletic games and practices are canceled next week, she said. Norwich Tech will evaluate whether to continue distance learning next Friday, Markey said.

    Several schools outside Norwich have asked their students from Norwich to remain home in remote learning.

    Following a suggestion by a Norwich resident Friday morning, the city will remove basketball hoops from courts at city parks and playgrounds for two weeks, Salomone said.

    City building inspectors will stop doing in-person inspections, reverting to remote inspections through video or inspecting work when no one is present. City Planner Deanna Rhodes said applications for building or zoning permits can be placed in an outdoor drop box.

    NPU told employees Friday the utility will return to phase 1 protocols immediately, with nonessential personnel working remotely, and maintenance work except for emergency work or small-team projects put on hold. All meetings will be done remotely, and non-emergency training delayed. Only outdoor meter reading will be done, with estimates for residential and commercial customers with indoor meters.

    NPU spokesman Chris Riley said no NPU employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

    Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom this week asked members of the Norwich Area Clergy Association to inform congregations about the COVID-19 outbreak and publicize the additional test sites. The clergy association met Thursday to discuss and compile messages to disseminate to their congregations.

    Association Chairman Rabbi Julius Rabinowitz said Beth Jacob Synagogue has not met in person since the pandemic hit in spring. A live event, Sunday in the Sukkah planned for this Sunday, was canceled.

    Association member the Rev. Gregory Perry, pastor of the Greeneville Congregational Church, added a list of COVID-19 protocols to the message, and a link to a TV news video of Thursday’s news conference.

    “We urge you to take this information very seriously, as the infection appears to be widespread throughout the community and is not clustered in any geographic or other demographic area or segment of the population that can be isolated,” Rabinowitz wrote in an email to Beth Jacob members.

    Day Staff Writer Kimberly Drelich contributed to this report.

    c.bessette@theday.com

    United Community and Family Services employees prepare to administer coronavirus tests Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, at the mobile testing lab set up at the Edward and Mary Lord Family Health Center in Norwich. The city has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases in the last week, prompting a response from the state Department of Public Health and the shift to distance learning for the next two weeks by city schools. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Norwich COVID-19 testing sites this weekend

    Norwich COVID-19 testing sites open this weekend. All tests are free and do not require health insurance or physician’s order.

    Saturday, Oct. 3

    Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School, 25 Mahan Drive, drive-thru, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

    William W. Backus Hospital 326 Washington St., drive-thru, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

    Three Rivers Community College, 574 New London Turnpike, 9 a.m. to noon.

    Uncas School, 290 Elizabeth St. Ext., walk-up, 9 a.m. to noon.

    Sunday, Oct. 4

    Norwich Adult Education, 191 Hickory St., drive-thru, noon to 5 p.m.

    William W. Backus Hospital 326 Washington St., drive-thru, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

    Three Rivers Community College, 574 New London Turnpike, 9 a.m. to noon.

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