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Mass vaccination site planned at Foxwoods

Norwich — As COVID-19 vaccination sites proliferate in communities around the state, including in southeastern Connecticut, it was revealed Friday that a mass vaccination site at Foxwoods Resort Casino is being planned.

The news emerged during U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy’s visit to Backus Hospital, where the Connecticut Democrat met with Donna Handley, Hartford HealthCare’s East Region president, and more than a half-dozen other Backus officials gathered inside the hospital’s main entrance.

Handley indicated the Foxwoods site could eclipse the vaccinating capacity of the mass vaccination site Hartford HealthCare opened late last month at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.

Murphy, speaking later to reporters, said he was a big proponent of mass vaccination sites. “Large sites work better,” he said. “When you’ve got 20 different portals (for scheduling appointments) and 20 different locations, it can be confusing.”

Neither Hartford HealthCare nor Foxwoods was prepared to provide details of the planned vaccination site.

“I can confirm that we’ve been in conversations with Backus and are committed to helping the community with vaccination efforts,” Jason Guyot, Foxwoods’ interim chief executive officer, wrote in an email. “We have not yet finalized an agreement although both sides are excited about developing a mega vaccination site at Foxwoods.”

A Hartford HealthCare spokeswoman shared an internal communication that lays out the health network’s overall approach to vaccine distribution.

“We are ready to establish additional large-scale community sites for vaccination across the state, in each Hartford HealthCare region,” the memo says. “HHC will provide the resources for recruiting people to provide necessary services at these locations; regional leadership will operate these centers, using the vaccine clinic model we have developed, and leveraging our capabilities across the system. Over time, the current hospital-based clinics will become smaller in scale, enabling more focus on the mega-sites, and reducing disruption at our acute-care locations. We will add strategically placed smaller community sites, as well.”

Handley told Murphy that the region’s elderly are eager to get the COVID-19 vaccine and that the Backus Hospital staff is prepared to administer far more doses than it’s been receiving. She related an anecdote about a 97-year-old woman who couldn’t sleep the night before her early morning appointment due to the anticipation.

There is less hesitancy among the elderly than among Backus staff members, about 60% of whom have been vaccinated, Handley said.

Connecticut officials have authorized the vaccination of residents 75 and older as part of Phase 1b of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Earlier, health care workers, medical first responders and residents of long-term care facilities were provided access to the vaccine in Phase 1a.

Matthew Kaufman, Backus’ vice present of operations, said Hartford HealthCare doled out 200 doses of the vaccine to its East Region in the first week of the rollout, with the expectation that far more supply would be entering the pipeline.

“Every week, we need 1,000 vials, which would be 5,000 to 6,000 doses,” Kaufman said, adding that in a single eight-hour shift, vaccinators at Backus alone can deliver 400 shots.

“Our goal to is to have 10 stations doing 1,000 vaccinations a day,” Handley said.

She told Murphy that Backus has seen a decline in COVID-19 patients in the last couple of weeks but the disease is still prevalent in the area. She said distributing the vaccine equitably poses a challenge and that Backus staff is developing plans to open a clinic in the Plainfield area.

While the hospital typically treats many cases of the flu in the December-to-February period, it has seen “zero” cases during the current flu season, Backus officials reported.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s office reported Friday that 1,258 new cases of COVID-19 had been detected in Connecticut since the previous day out of 34,577 new tests for the disease, yielding a positivity rate of 3.64%. The number of COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals declined by 10 to 985. Twenty-six more deaths were associated with the disease, bringing the statewide toll since the pandemic began to 7,046.

Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London reported it had 28 COVID-19 patients while Westerly Hospital had 15.

Ledge Light Health District, which serves nine towns in southern New London County, reported Thursday that it was encouraged by a moderate decrease in the number of cases for the second consecutive reporting period. In the week that ended Jan. 23, it counted 607 new cases, a 24% decline from the 802 counted the previous week and 30% fewer than the 872 counted the week before that, which was the most in any week since the pandemic started.

Uncas Health District, which includes the Greater Norwich area, also reported a decline in new cases for the second straight week, counting 497 new cases in the week ending Jan. 23 — 36% fewer than the 772 cases in the week ending Jan. 9.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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