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Foxwoods COVID-19 vaccination site opens

Mashantucket — Eastern Connecticut was again a focal point of Connecticut’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout Monday, with Hartford HealthCare executives and a top state official attending a late-morning news conference marking the opening of a mass vaccination site at Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Some 1,000 teachers and school staff had been vaccinated at the site the previous day.

State Attorney General William Tong used the occasion to urge immigrants to get vaccinated, noting they needn’t provide a Social Security number, immigration papers, a passport or a green card before rolling up their sleeves. They need only meet the age standard, currently 55 years or older, he said.

On Friday, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz toured a mass vaccination site that Yale New Haven Health launched Feb. 19 at Mohegan Sun.

Gov. Ned Lamont, in a virtual news briefing late Monday afternoon, acknowledged that both the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun vaccination sites as well as all other vaccination centers in the state could be doing “two, three, four, five times the (available) supply,” which the state receives from the federal government.

The state expects to get 137,000 first doses of the vaccine this week. It expects no doses of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who joined the governor’s call to discuss the American Rescue Plan Act, President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package, said the lack of vaccine supply is a result of the previous administration’s failings.

“President Trump left us with an absolute mess,” Murphy said. “He could have ordered more vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna. He forsook that possibility. He did not use the Defense Production Act that would have put us in a position where we could very quickly ramp up ... So President Biden is playing catch up.”

Murphy said a partnership between the drug companies Johnson & Johnson and Merck aimed at increasing production of the J&J vaccine and the $8 billion included in the stimulus package for vaccine distribution would lead to all three varieties of vaccine being widely available in the spring.

At Foxwoods, Jeffrey Flaks, president and chief executive officer of Hartford HealthCare, said the Foxwoods vaccination site has the potential to be the largest of the seven mass clinics Hartford HealthCare is operating across the state, the others being in Bridgeport, Fairfield, two in Hartford, New Britain and Wallingford. The network also is operating 22 community sites at hospitals, health centers and other locations as well as mobile units.

Hours at the Foxwoods site, located near the Rainmaker Casino, are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Flaks said Hartford HealthCare, whose network includes Backus Hospital in Norwich and Windham Hospital, had administered more than 170,000 vaccinations, helping reduce COVID-19's spread in Connecticut. He said Hartford HealthCare’s seven hospitals had 100 COVID-19 patients, a number that would be projected to be 350 without the vaccine.

Vaccinations, he added, had helped drive down the statewide COVID-19 positivity rate from 10% to 12% eight weeks ago to around 2%.

Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns and operates Foxwoods, said Donna Handley, Hartford HealthCare’s East Region president, approached him weeks ago about partnering on a mass vaccination site.

“She said she wanted to vaccinate one million people in Connecticut,” he said.

Butler didn’t hesitate to accept the challenge, Handley said.

The Mashantuckets, a federally recognized sovereign tribe, have received federal allocations of the vaccine through the state and have administered more than 1,000 Moderna doses to their own community, or about 30%, according to Dr. Setu Vora, the tribe’s chief medical officer. That community includes tribal members living on the local reservation as well as Foxwoods employees.

Lamont reported Monday that 2,066 new cases of COVID-19 had been detected in the state since Friday, and that 78,634 new test results had been collected. The average daily positivity rate over the three days was 2.63%, a slight increase over previous days but still considered quite low. Hospitalizations declined by 40 to 388.

Twenty-one deaths were linked to the coronavirus disease over the three-day period, an indication of a downward trend, the governor said.

Half of the state’s 55-and-older population has received at least the first dose of the vaccine. Among those 75 and older, 75% had received a dose, while 64% of those 65 to 74 and 25% of those 55 to 64 had gotten a shot.

The Department of Public Health reported that a second case of the so-called South African variant of COVID-19 had been detected in the state. The case involves a Greenwich resident between 15 and 25 years old who was tested in early February and reported traveling to Massachusetts.

An additional 15 cases of the U.K. variant of the disease had been counted, bringing the state’s total to 81, the department said. The first death in Connecticut linked to the variant was reported. The latest cases involved people ranging from 15 to 55 years of age. None are from eastern Connecticut.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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