Smartphone application latest weapon in state's COVID-19 arsenal
State officials want to throw everything we’ve got at the coronavirus.
Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday that Connecticut has joined a number of other states in embracing a COVID-19 “exposure notification” application that can alert smartphone users that they may have been exposed to someone with the disease. Whether COVID Alert CT will make a dent in the disease’s rampaging spread depends on how many people use it, he said.
“It’s not that tough. I mean even I could do it,” he said during a news briefing. “On your iPhone, you go to ‘settings’ and go to ‘exposure notification’ and download it. Same thing for Android users. ... I urge you to do this; I urge you to do it now. It’s exponentially more effective if each and every one of you download this app.”
Instructions are available at ct.gov/covidalertct.
Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer, said the app, a contact-tracing tool designed by Apple and Google, does not track users’ locations or any information about them.
“It will give you instructions but you will not hear from anyone — unless you reach out to contact tracers,” he said. “You shouldn’t have any hesitation about downloading it.”
Connecticut’s COVID-19 cases continued to spike, with 1,158 new cases reported Thursday, pushing the state’s cumulative total to 85,899 cases. Ten new deaths associated with the disease were reported, bringing the toll since March to 4,726. Hospitalizations, which Lamont said have doubled over the last two weeks, increased by 33 to 617.
With 24,001 new tests reported, the daily positivity rate was 4.8%. The seven-day average rate rose to 4.4%.
Lamont said about 200,000 tests a week are being administered in the state, which ranks among the top five in the country in tests per capita, and that 98% of test results are being reported “within a day or so.” Contact tracers are reaching about 98% of those who test positive, he said.
Turning to a color-coded map of Connecticut, the governor said 100 of the state’s 169 cities and towns representing about 80% of the state’s population were on “red alert” status due to high rates of new infections.
“Eastern Connecticut is doing a little better,” he said. “New London and Groton, bringing in the reinforcements, they’ve brought down the positivity rate there a little bit.”
In New London County, 4,518 COVID-19 cases have been reported and 154 deaths have been associated with the disease.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief and Pfizer board member who has advised Lamont on the state’s coronavirus response, joined Thursday’s briefing, warning that the pandemic is likely to continue surging into late January throughout much of the U.S.
“We’re about three or four weeks behind Europe,” he said.
Gottlieb agreed with state Department of Public Health findings that suggest restaurants, other workplaces and “indoor congregate settings” pose the most risk of spreading the disease.
Lamont complimented Mohegan Sun for limiting its restaurants’ serving times and capacities, in line with state guidelines. Paul Mounds, the governor’s chief of staff, said the governor’s office and the Department of Public Health have been in close contact with Mohegan Sun as it prepares to host an upcoming college basketball “bubble.”
It was announced Thursday that 40 teams will stay at Mohegan Sun and play 45 games, without fans, in Mohegan Sun Arena from Nov. 25 to Dec. 5.
“We’ve seen on the professional level that a bubble environment is a great way to keep everything contained,” Mounds said.
In a joint statement Thursday, the governors of the six New England states and New Jersey announced the suspension of interstate youth hockey competitions for public and private schools, effective Saturday through at least Dec. 31. The move came in response to recent coronavirus outbreaks associated with interstate youth hockey activities, the governors said.
Lamont had enacted the policy in Connecticut last week.
During a virtual news briefing Thursday, Dr. Ajay Kumar, Hartford HealthCare’s chief clinical officer, said the seven-hospital system was treating 165 COVID-19 patients, including 11 at Backus Hospital in Norwich.
“We’re seeing a rapid incline lately, especially in the last several days,” he said, adding that the surge was expected, based on modeling projections.
Kumar said the Hartford HealthCare system has not been overwhelmed.
In an interview, Dr. Kevin Torres, associate chief medical officer at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London, had a similar message. He noted that L+M has had from 15 to 20 COVID-19 cases each day over the last couple of weeks and that the hospital has plenty of capacity.
“Patients aren’t requiring as much intensive care as we’ve seen in the past,” Torres said. “Fewer are on ventilators.”
Doctors have learned how to better care for COVID-19 patients over time and are treating them more aggressively and effectively, he said, shortening hospitalizations.
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