Lamont suggests COVID-19 surge is subsiding

·3 min read

Jan. 21—Gov. Ned Lamont and health experts said Thursday the surge of the COVID-19 omicron variant is beginning to subside in Connecticut.

On Thursday, the state reported a 13.29% one-day positivity rate, with more than 36,000 tests reported and 4,805 positive results. On Wednesday, the state reported a 16.55% positivity rate, down from about 23-25% in recent weeks.

Lamont said that the 241 deaths reported as a result of COVID-19 in the last week is "a very big number," and noted that the vast majority of the deaths were of people who were either elderly, unvaccinated or had comorbidities or some combination of the three.

Hospitalizations were down 72 since Wednesday. New London County currently has 103 hospitalizations. Lawrence + Memorial Hosital in New London reported it had 53 COVID-19 patients while Westerly Hospital had 13.

Drs. Manisha Juthani, the commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, and Scott Gottlieb, a Pfizer board member, both said the pandemic is heading toward becoming an endemic later in the year.

"We have a rapidly improving picture around the tri-state region, certainly around the state," Gottlieb said. "There have been people like me who predicted delta would be the last wave of infection, and omicron came along and surprised us. I think there is a conventional wisdom right now forming ... that this omicron wave may well be the last major wave of infection."

Gottlieb is expecting a shift away from population-wide measures instituted by government "and more toward trying to empower people to take individual actions to keep themselves safe as this becomes an endemic illness and as this becomes a more routine part of life." He also mentioned the real possibility of omicron-specific vaccine.

The state has thus far distributed 3.1 million at-home COVID tests. Lamont and state Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Josh Geballe said the state would be distributing 500,000 more such tests before Saturday.

Lamont spoke to an executive order he issued Wednesday, which goes into effect Saturday, that requires nursing home visitors to be vaccinated or to have recently tested negative to be allowed in.

He said 92% of nursing home residents are vaccinated and 77% are boosted, and said he hopes Wednesday's executive order "is our last."

The governor's emergency powers expire on Feb. 15. He has asked the legislature to codify 11 orders in the event of the expiration, but on Thursday, he and his administration, including Chief of Staff Paul Mounds, said it would be beneficial to extend the governor's powers 30 to 60 days.

Lamont said a possible extension is "totally up to the legislative leadership" and that his office has given legislative leaders the 11 executive orders that "we think are necessary to keep people safe for a little bit longer."

"If the legislature wants to weigh in and change any of those EOs, that's certainly their prerogative, but we need a decision by the 15th," he said.

The governor said that he would not seek an extension on an executive order for state employees to be vaccinated (or regularly tested). Geballe elaborated on the rationale.

"It's important to distinguish the executive order that mandates vaccination for long-term care staff as well as state hospital employees ... that mandate will continue and has been enhanced to include boosters," he said. "We saw about a 10-15% lift from when that mandate was announced to where we are now, but that increase has really flattened off. At this point the significant administrative burden on our agencies and on our schools to administer that ongoing weekly testing regimen, to chase the people who are chronically late getting their test results in, it's run its course, it's not of sufficient value anymore."

Asked whether state Department of Corrections staff would still be beholden to some kind of mandate given its congregate setting and the fact that department staff is the least vaccinated of all state agency employees (at just over two-thirds of employees), Geballe said there is potential to implement a testing regimen in the coming weeks.

s.spinella@theday.com