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Lamont addresses COVID uptick, pushes booster shots

Gov. Ned Lamont held his first COVID-19 press briefing in months on Monday because of a recent spike in cases of the virus in Connecticut. 

The state has had 414,978 cases of COVID with 2,060 since Friday. Of 58,379 tests since Friday, 3.53% were positive for the virus.

Meanwhile, last week Connecticut reported the highest average increase in daily COVID cases in the country, though that is due in part to the state beginning at a place of relatively low transmission. New London County has reported 29,050 cases of COVID and 499 deaths, and currently has 37 people hospitalized. 

On Monday, Lamont used the numbers to sound the alarm for booster shoots while also reassuring that the statistics aren’t overly alarming.

After highlighting the 3.53% positivity rate, he noted, “That has gone up quite a bit over the last month or so. It’s probably the highest since September,” but added that people can take a bit, but not too much, comfort that Connecticut has the lowest positivity rate in the region.

Lamont, Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Josh Geballe and Connecticut Public Health Commissioner Dr. Manisha Juthani said given the increased spread of the virus and with the holidays coming up, people 18 or older should get the booster. Of those eligible for a booster, 18% have gotten it, putting Connecticut at 9th in the country in that regard. The state ranks first in the nation with 84% of residents fully vaccinated.

Last week Lamont announced that everyone 18 or older should get a booster if it’s been at least two months since receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or six months for the second Moderna and Pfizer shot.

Juthani described the climate’s role in what she and Lamont warned could be another — albeit smaller — wave of COVID. 

“When the humidity goes down viruses are able to circulate and stay in the air for longer. As it’s getting colder, people are going indoors, people are socializing more, and this is a recipe for how the virus transmits,” she said. “When it was hotter and people were indoors in some of the southern states, with their ACs blowing, a lot of their rates were higher. ... In the winter season, this is when our respiratory viruses always circulate more.”

Juthani said that immunity is waning for those vaccinated earliest, which are those in the oldest age groups who were some of the first vaccinated in January or February. Current CDC guidance says people are fully vaccinated if they’ve received two shots. The booster shot isn’t factored in to the guideline.

“But this could change,” Juthani said.

Lamont said there are 962 vaccination/booster locations in the state and vaccine clinics will be taking place through the holidays with clinics set up at travel centers such as Bradley International Airport. 

Juthani said the state is making a special effort at getting booster shots to nursing homes. She said 70% of nursing homes have a booster clinic scheduled by Thanksgiving and the rest are scheduled by Dec. 15, and that an average of 95% of residents are receiving a booster at each clinic. 

Despite the uptick in positivity rate, Lamont does not foresee additional COVID-related restrictions or mandates.

He also pointed out that more than 56,000 5-to-11-year-olds or 20% of that population in Connecticut have been vaccinated compared to  the national average of around 10%,

“We could be doing a lot better,” he said.

Lamont said that if, once the holiday season is over and the “overwhelming majority” of people are vaccinated in and out of schools, the state will consider taking a second look at the school mask mandate.

"But in the meantime, let’s err on the side of caution a little bit longer,” he said.

According to numbers collected by the state in a one-time survey released today, more than 90% of school employees K-12 are fully vaccinated.   

Lamont said he saw “very little of” schools recently having to move to remote learning. 

“This time our schools are all open, all the kids are coming back, we’ve had very few quarantines, very little remote learning, more in-person learning,” he said. “That wasn’t true of some of the school systems down south a month or two ago when they were flaring up.”

Geballe gave an update on the state employee vaccine mandate, saying that 31 employees have been “separated” from working for the state, 35 have been placed on unpaid leave, 42 are in the process of being placed on unpaid leave due to refusal to comply and several hundred are noncompliant but working to get compliant. In all, 84% of state employees are fully vaccinated, he said.

Lamont said at the end of the news conference that he would likely continue to hold briefings until the current spike subsides. 

“It’s an informative way to give people an idea of progress and how we’re doing, but not to be alarmist,” he said.

 s.spinella@theday.com

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