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Connecticut's COVID-19 outlook improving, governor says

Despite indications that COVID-19’s spread has slowed somewhat, Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday he’s not prepared to ease restrictions on restaurants and other businesses.

“Not yet,” he said during a virtual news briefing. “Our schools are just reopening right now, high school sports are just coming back, colleges are just coming back, we’ve had a couple more of the extremely infectious strain of the virus ... Let’s take a look at it in a couple of weeks.”

Shortly before Lamont spoke, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced he planned to ease some restrictions due to improving COVID-19 metrics in his state, including the rate of positive test results and the number of hospitalizations. He said a stay-at-home advisory and an order that restaurants close by 9:30 p.m. would be lifted Monday.

Some in Rhode Island have been pushing for Gov. Gina Raimondo to roll back similar restrictions.

Lamont, who imposed early-closing requirements and limits on restaurant capacities in early November, highlighted more improving COVID-19 numbers Thursday, reporting that 1,662 new cases of the coronavirus disease had been detected among 38,960 tests, yielding a one-day positive rate of 4.3% and driving the seven-day rolling average rate down to 5.2%. It hasn’t been that low since early December.

Hospitalizations declined by 55 to 1,069, which Lamont said was “extraordinarily good,” while deaths associated with the diseased climbed by 48 to 6,774. Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London reported it had 36 COVID-19 patients, while Westerly Hospital had nine.

Lamont said he wants to be sure that when he does ease restrictions, the move is permanent.

The state Department of Public Health and the State Public Health Laboratory confirmed that two more cases of the highly infectious COVID-19 strain first discovered in the United Kingdom have been detected in Connecticut. Both of the new cases are family members of one of the first two Connecticut individuals who were found to be infected with the variant earlier this month. They were described at the time as New Haven County residents between the ages of 15 and 25.

State officials say it’s unclear how much the decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases can be attributed to the rollout of the vaccine developed to combat the disease. As of Thursday, 226,930 first doses of the vaccine and 31,337 second doses had been administered in the state, for a total of 258,267 doses.

Lamont said the state has the infrastructure in place to administer five times as many as the roughly 46,000 weekly doses it’s scheduled to keep receiving from the federal government. He said he spoke earlier in the day with representatives of Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company responsible for producing one version of the vaccine, and that they indicated the company could double production by the end of February and double it again by the end of March.

Most of the vaccine Connecticut has received has come from Pfizer, Lamont said. Vaccine developed by Moderna also is being administered to state residents.

Connecticut’s success in getting the vaccine into its residents’ arms had much to do with Lamont’s appointment as co-chairman of the National Governors Association’s Pandemic and Disaster Response Task Force. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the association’s chairman, appointed Lamont and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to head the group, which will work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard on such COVID-19 issues as testing, vaccines, supply chains and the distribution of personal protective equipment.

Lamont said his leadership of the task force could only help the state.

“This is what I’m already doing 18 hours a day — COVID,” he said.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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