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    Tuesday, April 16, 2024

    As COVID numbers decline in Conn., experts optimistic about pandemic

    As COVID-19 numbers continue to improve in Connecticut, experts say they're optimistic that the disease will fade to the background for at least the near future.

    "We're seeing decreases really in all metrics, so I think that's good news, and I hope the trend continues," said Dr. Scott Roberts, associate medical director for infection prevention at Yale New Haven Hospital. "Who knows, but certainly my prediction is we'll continue to decrease."

    According to data published Thursday, Connecticut has recorded 2,671 new COVID-19 cases on 29,568 tests over the past week, for a positivity rate of 9 percent. Case counts have declined steadily since early January, when the state saw nearly 5,000 positive tests over a seven-day period, while Connecticut's seven-day positivity rate has fallen from a high of 17.8 percent.

    Per state data, Connecticut currently has 511 people hospitalized with COVID-19, down from 600 last week and 761 earlier this month. Still, the state reported 42 COVID-linked deaths Thursday, bringing its total to 11,941 during the pandemic.

    Though the state's COVID numbers remain a bit higher than last fall, experts say the trends offer strongly positive signs, especially following fears of a major surge similar to the one Connecticut experienced last winter.

    "We're still at a fairly high level of COVID transmission, but over the last couple weeks there seem to be signs of plateauing in transmission and maybe even signs of decreasing hospitalizations," said Dr. David Banach, hospital epidemiologist at UConn Health. "It's always going to be a cautious eye moving forward, but hopefully some optimism with the trend that we're seeing right now."

    Roberts noted that Connecticut's numbers have already declined back to about where they were for much of last year, suggesting that the winter wave has already passed. In the end, the spike resulted in thousands of hospitalizations and several hundred deaths but never overwhelmed hospital resources the way last winter's surge did.

    As compared to previous years, Roberts said he counts that as a success.

    "If that was all it was, I'm ecstatic," he said.

    Connecticut's recent spike was likely driven not only by cold weather and holiday gatherings but also by the XBB.1.5 subvariant, which now accounts for a strong majority of cases in the Northeast. Ultimately, though, the subvariant appears to have petered out more quickly than some of its predecessors, likely due to prior immunity and vaccination.

    "It probably has run against our community and regional immunity wall of people with hybrid immunity from natural infection and prior vaccination," Roberts said.

    With the latest spike apparently having past, the question becomes, what happens next? Will future variants arrive to cause future surges? Will COVID remain as the dominant virus circulating each winter? Or will it finally become just another illness to manage alongside numerous others?

    Banach said he's not willing to pronounce the pandemic over but said Connecticut is well past "the emergency phase" and into a more manageable one.

    "It's plausible that COVID could transition into the usual mix of respiratory viruses," he said.

    Roberts, meanwhile, said he's optimistic that a baseline level of community infection will prevent major COVID waves in the future. The virus will likely spike each winter, as the flu does, but won't likely cause major disruptions, outside of an occasional bad year, he said.

    Asked whether he considered the pandemic to be over, Roberts paused and said he wasn't sure.

    "I guess it's probably over at this point, for me at least," he said. "We're at an ongoing level of community transmission and all public health intervention has sort of been made optional, where the tools are there and whether people adhere to them is up to them.

    "We're certainly out of the acute phase of the pandemic," he continued, "and we're probably more in the chronic phase now."

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