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Delta variant, unvaccinated people continue to drive COVID-19, experts say

A potent strain of the coronavirus and the sizable number of people who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 continue to drive the disease’s spread in Connecticut, Yale New Haven Health officials said Tuesday.

The ongoing “uptick” in the number of COVID-19 cases was the theme of a news briefing featuring Chris O’Connor, the health system’s president, and Dr. Thomas Balcezak, the chief clinical officer.

O’Connor reported the system’s five hospitals were treating 137 patients Tuesday, nearly three times the number they were treating a month ago. Thirty-seven of the patients were in intensive care, including 23 on ventilators. A month ago, 10 patients were in intensive care, five on ventilators.

Thirteen of Yale New Haven Health's patients Tuesday were in Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London, and eight were in Westerly Hospital. Yale New Haven Hospital had 54 patients, Bridgeport Hospital had 50 and Greenwich Hospital had 12. Earlier this summer, Greenwich, L+M and Westerly hospitals had no COVID-19 patients.

Of the system's 137 COVID-19 patients, 37, or 27%, were fully vaccinated, highlighting the “durability” of the delta variant, the strain largely responsible for the global increase in cases, O’Connor said.

According to Balcezak, nearly all of Yale New Haven Health’s COVID-19 hospitalizations stemmed from the delta variant.

Balcezak said he hoped the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s full approval Monday of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine would lead to more vaccinations. More than 27,000 Yale New Haven Health employees, including medical staff, have been vaccinated, about 83% to 84% of the total, he said. Remaining holdouts face an Aug. 31 deadline to get a first dose of vaccine.

Asked what will happen to those who refuse to get vaccinated, O’Connor said: “They’ll no longer work for Yale New Haven Health.”

Balcezak said medical exemptions are granted to those who have suffered an episode of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder, as well as those who have an allergy to any component of the vaccine. The latter circumstance would come to light when a person had an allergic reaction to an initial dose of the vaccine, rendering the person ineligible for a second dose. Exemptions on religious grounds also are considered and can be granted. Patients who are undergoing treatments that compromise their immune system can qualify for a deferral.

In the last week, Yale New Haven Health has administered third doses of COVID-19 vaccine to about 300 eligible immunocompromised patients. The FDA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are expected to soon authorize third doses for everyone.

Health care workers in particular might be well served by a third dose, Balcezak said.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s office reported Tuesday that 1,071 new COVID-19 cases had been detected in the state since the previous day. Nearly 28,000 new test results had been collected, yielding a daily positivity rate of 3.83%. Hospitalizations totaled 391, up 22 from the previous day.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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