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Lamont pushing for legislature to renew coronavirus emergencies

Gov. Ned Lamont expects the Connecticut General Assembly to convene in a special session Monday or Tuesday and is pushing legislators to vote in favor of a few emergency orders he views as necessary to keeping people safe, the governor said Thursday in the first coronavirus briefing he has held in a month.

These pertain to free access to vaccines, vaccine mandates, measures to boost staffing in nursing homes, the UniteCT program to provide money to landlords, and indoor mask mandates in “high-risk facilities,” such as health care facilities and transportation centers.

Lamont said legislators are able to vote up or down on individual items.

He said he doesn’t have a particular metric or threshold for when these measures won’t be needed, commenting, “COVID has thrown so many curveballs. Where did delta (variant) come from? I thought we had this thing more or less behind us, a few months ago. Now it’s not the ninth inning but we’re in extra innings.”

Lamont is asking the legislature to renew his public health and civil preparedness emergencies until Feb. 15.

In Thursday’s briefing, a reporter asked Lamont if the mask mandate for kids in schools will be extended to February, or if he would consider getting rid of the mandate if children can be vaccinated before then.

“We look at the facts on the ground,” the governor replied. “If we have an overwhelming number of kids who are vaccinated by the end of December, we can take a look at that.”

Booster shots

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday said it would grant emergency use authorization for a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine to people 65 and older, and those who are high-risk.

Connecticut Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Manisha Juthani said people ages 65 and older can start getting a booster shot, a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine, as early as Friday. This is only for those who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine; people immunized with the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines will have to wait longer.

Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe said about 430,000 Connecticut residents received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine six months ago or longer, and 270,000 of them are 65 or older. “We are not anticipating an onerous process for people to get their booster,” he said, noting that because the state isn’t constrained by vaccine supply or capacity to administer shots, he doesn’t anticipate a lot of rules.

Juthani said the status of booster shots for those under 65 will be determined in the weeks and months ahead.

State employee vaccination deadline looms

Monday is the effective date of Lamont’s executive order requiring state employees to be vaccinated or get tested weekly. Geballe said by Sunday night, employees will have to either submit their vaccine documentation or weekly test result through an online system.

Geballe said the state is finalizing union negotiations about what disciplinary action will be taken for noncompliance, and he added that providing false documentation is a misdemeanor.

For unvaccinated employees who get tested weekly, he doesn’t anticipate the testing will be covered by insurance, meaning it could be an out-of-pocket cost to workers.

COVID-19 numbers

According to the governor’s office, the coronavirus test positivity rate Thursday was 2.28% and 13 more people were hospitalized compared to the day before, bringing total hospitalizations in the state to 282. To date, 8,483 have died from COVID-19 in the state.

The 7-day average for the positivity rate is 2.7%.

“I do think that we seem to be reaching a place where we have plateaued and are potentially going further down, which is really good news for Connecticut,” Juthani said. “I think we need to continue our vaccination efforts, so that we can try to prevent any sort of surge that might come this winter.”

She does not think that lower vaccination rates elsewhere in the country are putting Connecticut’s gains in jeopardy.

Connecticut has the highest rate in the country of adults who are fully vaccinated, but the governor’s office noted that 680,000 eligible people aren’t fully vaccinated.

Geballe said the state still is seeing 15,000 people a week come forward to get their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, which he thinks is both a function of the delta variant and of vaccine mandates.

Juthani said we have to be prepared for respiratory viruses circulating in the winter, and urged people to get the flu vaccine, but she is cautiously optimistic. She said she is not seeing an imminent threat from any other variant at this time.

e.moser@theday.com

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