CONNECTICUT — The number of positive cases of the coronavirus will continue to climb through mid-January, according to projections by John Murphy, the president and CEO of Nuvance Health, one of the state's leading healthcare providers.
Murphy joined Gov. Ned Lamont at a press conference Monday, where he made the predictions of a "tough winter." He said he makes the forecast after carefully following six models of the spread of the virus, and forming a consensus.
Driving those calculations, Murphy said, will be students returning home for the holidays, colder weather keeping people indoors, and end-of-year festivities creating large family gatherings.
Despite the forecast, Murphy was upbeat about what overall outcomes could be expected. The average hospital stay at the start of the pandemic was around 14 days, he said, and now it's a week, a statistic that "effectively doubles our capacity."
Healthcare professionals in Connecticut have gotten "much more aggressive about getting out in front of this," Murphy said. Testing and tracing is much better, and the data is now shared widely. Communication is "light years ahead of where it was" early in the pandemic.
"The setting is different today than 5-6 months ago," Murphy said. Hospital therapies are more effective, and staff is better prepared. "Seven months has taught us a great deal of how to combat it."
Nuvance operates hospitals in Norwalk, Danbury, New Milford and Sharon within Connecticut, and three more in New York.
Patients over the age of 80 who end up on a ventilator are still at a very high risk, Murphy said, but the COVID-19 patient admitted at a Nuvance hospital today is on average 5-10 years younger than they were in the spring. "What that means is there are fewer comorbidities."
Lamont said he is drawing inspiration from the way countries and municipalities are handling the pandemic in Europe.
"Europe is the canary in the coal mine," according to Lamont. He said that, unlike the U.S., European countries favor curfews as a means to limit the spread of the virus.
"The lockdowns are much more limited," the governor said, pointing to riots in Italy to illustrate the intolerance the population has for them.
As in the U.S., Europe is keeping school grades K-8 open as much as they can, Lamont said, but noted that gathering restrictions in some countries are kept to a minimum of six.
With just 6.54 hospitalizations per 100,000 population, Connecticut is on the healthier end of the U.S. spectrum, 7th best overall. North Dakota is at the far end, with over 40 hospitalizations per 100,000 people. The national average is 14. France, which Lamont said is about three months ahead of the U.S. in terms of the coronavirus spread, is now at 105 hospitalizations per 100,000 population.
In Connecticut, the number of hospitalizations was up by 37 beds over the past weekend, according to the latest data from the Department of Public Health.