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Connecticut home for retired nuns closed to visitors due to outbreak

Local health officials have ordered a Connecticut home for retired nuns closed to visitors and the public because of a coronavirus outbreak that infected nearly half of the more than 70 residents there as vaccinations were underway.

The restrictions on the School Sisters of Notre Dame home in Wilton were ordered by town Director of Health Barrington Bogle, and state health officials were expected to visit the property Monday to help with the outbreak, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said in a statement Sunday.

Vanderslice said 30 residents recently tested positive for COVID-19, as did a number of staff members. Health officials are doing contact tracing in Wilton as well as in the communities where staff members live. There currently isn't any evidence of similar community spread in Wilton, Vanderslice said.

Residents who tested positive are being quarantined at a former skilled nursing facility on the property that is next door to the residences, said Caelie Haines, a spokesperson for School Sisters of Notre Dame. Any resident who needs more acute care will be taken to hospitals, she said.

“Our plans are to keep affected Sisters isolated from those who have not tested positive and keep them as comfortable as possible in their temporary rooms,” Haines wrote in an email.

Fifteen retired nuns recently received COVID-19 vaccinations under state guidelines, which allow vaccinations for people 75 years and older. The remaining residents and staff were scheduled to be vaccinated Monday, after town officials obtained permission to administer the vaccine to non-eligible residents and staff, Vanderslice said.

“We are all saddened the outbreak happened prior to those vaccinations,” Vanderslice said. “Please keep this special community of nuns in your thoughts."

Haines said the vaccinations scheduled for Monday were expected to be given as planned.

Before the outbreak, only one resident had tested positive for the virus and that was early in the pandemic. The woman died in March.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame was founded in 1833 in Bavaria, Germany, and now includes 2,300 members in 30 countries, according to the organization's website. Its ministries include helping the poor and unfortunate, education, social services and health care.

Residences for retired or infirm nuns around the country have been hit hard by the pandemic. The pattern has aligned with outbreaks at U.S. nursing homes, where 550,000 residents have been infected and nearly 110,000 have died, according to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

In other coronavirus news:

VACCINE APPOINTMENTS

Dr. Deidre Gifford, the acting Department of Public Health commissioner, said Monday that efforts are underway to beef up staffing on a vaccine scheduling assistance line and improve the state's vaccine scheduling website to improve the process.

Gifford said the United Way on Friday doubled the number of people staffing its 211 vaccine assistance line to help handle the large volume of calls, with plans to add workers next by next week. She said improvements are also being made to the website where those eligible can sign up for a vaccination appointment. Officials intend, for example, to include an interactive map that enables people to see where in Connecticut appointments are available.

The improvements come amid complaints raised by some senior citizens and advocates about challenges in securing an appointment. Currently, only people 75 years and older are allowed to sign up for a vaccine, besides those who were eligible under Phase 1A, which includes healthcare workers, long-term care facility residents and staff, and medical first responders.

Some people living in congregate settings, such as homeless shelters, are also beginning to get vaccinated.

“You’re going to start to see improvements every single day,” said Gifford, who appeared with Gov. Ned Lamont and other officials at an appointment-only, drive-up vaccination clinic at Rentchler Field in East Hartford. The site has been open for a week. About 1,600 people were expected to be vaccinated on Monday, with plans to eventually ramp up to 5,000 a day once Connecticut receives more doses.

“The bottom line is, as everyone has alluded to, we’re getting about 46,000 first doses every week in Connecticut. So we don’t have enough vaccine to vaccinate everyone who wants it. Right now, we’re all going to have to be a little bit patient, but keep trying to get that appointment,” Gifford said. “And if you’re 75 and older, we want you to be vaccinated and we’ll get you a vaccine. It just may take a little a little bit of time.”

 

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