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Gov. Lamont says he plans to extend pandemic-related emergency powers to April 20

Fearing further spread of a highly contagious variant of COVID-19, four new cases of which have been detected in Connecticut, and the threat that poses to the state’s progress in combating the virus, Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday he plans to extend his pandemic-related emergency powers until April 20.

“Things are changing very fast. We could go one of two directions in terms of the super spreader variant versus the relative stability we’re seeing right now ... and it’s really important we be able to operate with relative quickness,” Lamont said.

Lamont’s emergency powers, which have given him unilateral authority to dictate the state’s response to the pandemic, are due to expire Feb. 9. The governor said during his coronavirus briefing Monday that he will formally request an extension of those powers from the state legislature.

While the state’s daily positivity rate remains relatively low — 4.73% as of Monday —  and hospitalizations are stabilizing, “there is a black cloud,” Lamont said.

Public health officials in Connecticut have confirmed an additional four residents have the more infectious strain that originated in the United Kingdom, known as the U.K. variant, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the state to eight.

Of those eight Connecticut residents, two live in New Haven, three live in Oxford and three live in West Haven. They range in age from 15 to 50.  

Two of the individuals live in the same household, but otherwise there does not appear to be any other links between the eight cases, the governor's office said.

The PCR test, used to detect if someone is infected with COVID-19, also shows when a certain signature, indicating the U.K. variant, is present, said Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer.

All PCR tests that have that signature are being sent to labs for genetic sequencing to confirm whether it is the U.K. variant, he said, adding it’s likely that there are more than just those eight cases in Connecticut.

“We don’t have evidence at this point that would suggest the number is dramatically higher. But it would probably be a mistake to assume that these are the only eight in the state at this point,” Geballe said.

The discovery of the new cases comes as the state remains among the top in the nation in the number of people its vaccinating per capita.

As of Monday afternoon, the state had administered 308,502 doses of the vaccine. Lamont said 27% of residents 75 and older have received at least their first dose.

The state is receiving weekly vaccine shipments from the federal government, each containing about 46,900 doses. But that falls short of the requests, totaling “well over” 150,000 doses, the state is getting from hospitals, community health centers and other vaccine administrators, Lamont said.

By the end of this week, the state expects it will have received around 585,000 doses in total. That number reflects the amount of vaccine the state has received since the rollout began and includes first and second doses.

Connecticut received an extra 50,000 doses last week — “a one shot deal” Lamont said was provided as an incentive under the Trump administration to states based on how quickly they were administering the vaccine.

Lamont also reported that hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have increased by 10 since Friday, and there have been an additional 92 coronavirus-linked deaths.

In New London County, 16,194 cases and 353 deaths have now been linked to COVID-19, according to the state’s figures. Over the weekend, an additional 10 coronavirus-related deaths and six more hospitalizations were reported in the county.

Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London reported it had 38 COVID-19 patients Monday while Westerly Hospital had 19.

Electric Boat reported 12 new cases among its employees Monday, bringing the total number of cases there since the pandemic began to 1,255.

The state Department of Corrections announced Monday that a 53-year-old inmate at the Bridgeport Correctional Center has died from complications related to COVID-19.

The inmate, whose name was not released, was transferred from the Bridgeport facility to a hospital for treatment on Dec. 30, and died late Sunday evening. 

"The deceased individual had suffered from underlying health issues which made him more susceptible to contracting the novel coronavirus," the department said in a news release.

The inmate was awaiting trial on multiple charges of possessing child pornography, the department said.

A total of 19 inmates' deaths have been linked to COVID-19 since the pandemic began, including six this month. The latest death comes as the department prepares to vaccinate staff and inmates as part of phase 1b of the state’s vaccine rollout.

Day Staff Writer Brian Hallenbeck contributed to this report.

j.bergman@theday.com

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