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Lamont: State needs more people to combat COVID-19

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Connecticut, the Lamont administration scrambled to ensure enough protective gear, such as N95 masks and gowns, was available to health care workers and that supplies were in place to carry out mass testing.

Now, eight months into the pandemic, Gov. Ned Lamont said what the state needs most is people.

During his coronavirus briefing Monday, Lamont announced a new state program called “Step up Connecticut” to enlist people to aid the state’s COVID-19 response, including signing up to become substitute teachers to fill staffing shortages at schools, volunteer at testing sites or take on roles in nursing homes and hospitals. Some of the positions are paid, while others are volunteer.

With college students coming home for Thanksgiving, and many staying home for the next couple of months as colleges carry out remote learning, Lamont is hoping many of them will step up to help.

“You can binge watch Netflix for three weeks or we have other ways you can be of assistance by helping your community get through this pandemic,” he said.

Lamont reported Monday that the state has conducted more than 3 million tests since the pandemic began. While there’s no shortage of testing supplies, more people are needed to help at the testing sites around the state where people have had to wait at times for several hours to get tested.

Also on Monday, Lamont reported the state’s positivity rate is at 4.8%, which is lower than it was last week, but that’s a number that tends to bounce around. The state reported more than 5,000 new COVID-19 cases since Friday, another 43 coronavirus-associated deaths, and an additional 27 people are hospitalized.

In New London County, more than 300 new coronavirus cases were reported since Friday. The county now has a total of 5,435 confirmed and 157 probable cases. Probable deaths remained unchanged since Friday and now stand at 43. Confirmed deaths remained unchange at 120.

On Monday, both Lawrence + Memorial and Westerly hospitals had the highest number of COVID-19 patients since the pandemic broke out, Fiona Phelan, a spokeswoman for the hospitals, said. L+M was treating 35 patients, including six in intensive care, three of whom were on ventilators. Westerly had 13 COVID-19 patients, including three in intensive care, two of them on ventilators. 

L+M’s previous high was 31 patients on May 6. Westerly’s previous high was eight on April 23. 

“We have the ability to care for the growing number of patients in our hospitals,” Phelan said. “Our planning allows us to expand our capacity throughout the hospital to accommodate an influx of COVID patients in cohorted units as well as care for all other patients who are here for other reasons.” 

Backus Hospital in Norwich had 20 COVID-19 patients Monday, including three in intensive care.

Broadly speaking, Lamont said hospitals in the state are at 50% capacity. Josh Geballe, the governor’s chief operating officer, said 30% of the intensive care beds in the state are occupied by “Covid positive” patients.

“We have more capacity in our hospital beds and (intensive care units) than most other states in the country right now,” Lamont said.

That said, the state would be able to reactivate the field hospitals set up at the beginning of the pandemic in the event hospitals reach capacity in a matter of 48 to 72 hours, Lamont said.

With Thanksgiving approaching, Lamont repeated his warnings for residents to gather in small groups with members of their immediate households. The state is still finding that many of the outbreaks occurring during this latest surge are due to informal social gatherings where people are gathering indoors with friends or family so they think it's safe to not wear masks or practice social distancing, Geballe said.

Day Staff Writer Brian Hallenbeck contributed to this report.

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