The number of people in Connecticut who are hospitalized for COVID-19 dropped for the second day in a row a Thursday, offering a glimmer of hope that was dampened by an uptick in the daily positivity rate.
The state on Thursday reported that hospitalizations had dropped by 21, for a total of 492 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19. The decreasing number signals a possible reversal in the trend, after hospitalizations rose sharply at the end of March, increasing by more than 30% in just over a week.
But on the same day, the state also reported a jump in positivity rate. Connecticut on Thursday reported 1,580 newly identified cases out of a total of 35,538 tests administered, for a positivity rate of 4.45%.
While the daily rate fluctuates more widely, the weekly rate offers a stabler view. And including Thursday’s data, the state’s weekly average rate remained at 3.7%, after dipping as low as 2.2% in early March.
Connecticut also remains among the top states for new cases per capita with the fourth highest rate in the nation, according to a ranking by The Washington Post. Lamont has repeatedly pointed to Connecticut’s high rate of testing as an explanation, although medical experts also point to the spread of more contagious variants as well as the state’s continued push to reopen.
And while Connecticut’s cases per capita rise, deaths per capita have continued to fall. Lamont credited his age-based vaccine rollout, which has led to a high vaccination rate among the state’s older residents.
“You can see that, while Connecticut is in the top ten in terms of cases per capita ... but we’re one of the lowest in the country, number 35 to be exact, when it comes to fatalities per capita,” the governor said. “It’s worth showing that vaccinations work.”
However, on Thursday, the state reported 14 additional coronavirus-linked deaths, which is significantly more than it has been reporting in recent days. But the number of daily deaths sometimes fluctuates considerably, meaning that Thursday’s increase is not necessarily the beginning of a new trend.
Since the pandemic began, Connecticut has seen a total of 312,468 coronavirus cases and 7,900 coronavirus-linked deaths. Nationwide, there have been more than 30.5 million coronavirus cases and a total of 552,957 deaths, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University.
Another step of reopening to take place Friday
Lamont said this week that, despite increasing case counts, he will be moving forward with the next step of reopening on Friday.
Beginning on Good Friday, outdoor event venues will be allowed to increase to 50% capacity, capped at 10,000 people, while indoor stadiums will be allowed to open at 10% capacity. In addition, the state will allow outdoor amusement parks to open, without a capacity limit.
At all venues, social distancing and masking requirements remain in place.
Lamont said at his Thursday press briefing that he and the legislature have not decided what will reopen next. But as the state’s metrics have veered, in recent weeks, toward the concerning, he said it would take a considerable uptick for him to consider delaying reopening or rolling back restrictions. He said he is watching hospital capacity closely for signs of a surge.
At the spring peak, the state’s hospitalizations rose to nearly 2,000 and in the winter they rose again to more than 1,200. With hospitalizations currently around 500, they would have to at least double before the state’s hospitals began to near capacity.
“I wouldn’t be absolute about this, if we saw a sudden shift, if we saw a variant, [if] we saw that Pfizer was not working against the Brazilian variant ... we would get ahead of that curve,” Lamont said. “But I don’t see any of that right now. And I do see incredible progress on our vaccinations, so I think we’re ahead of those risks.”
While moving forward with reopening, the governor has also repeatedly emphasized the need for personal precautions such as masking, social distancing and hand washing.
State moving closer to equity targets, but vaccination disparities still increasing
This past week, Connecticut’s vaccine providers inched closer to the state-suggested equity targets, which are intended to boost vaccination rates in the most vulnerable neighborhoods. However, state data still shows that the actual vaccination rates are continuing to grow more disparate between racial and ethnic groups.
The targets are set at a proportional rate to the eligible population — meaning that, if they hit the target, vaccine providers would simply be allocating the same number of doses per capita to the vulnerable neighborhoods that they allocate to non-vulnerable neighborhoods. (Advocates have criticized the target because, even if it is met, it would merely maintain the existing disparities instead of reducing them.)
The state reported on Thursday that providers had allocated 25% of doses to the vulnerable neighborhoods, compared with the goal of 26%.
Federally qualified health centers, which are typically located in vulnerable neighborhoods, continue to lead the pack. Last week, they allocated 28% of their doses to the priority neighborhoods. Pharmacies continue to trail, with an allocation last week of only 16%.
“We’re narrowing that gap steadily, we’re not there yet and we still have more work to do, but we’re making progress,” the state’s chief operating officer, Josh Geballe, said at a Thursday press briefing.
But even as providers move closer to the state-set target, the vaccination disparities continue to grow. While vaccinations are increasing across all groups, they are increasing the fastest among white residents and, this past week, among Asian residents.
According to March 22 state data, 37% of white residents had received at least one dose, compared with 20% of Black residents and less than 17% of Hispanic residents.
By March 31, the percent of white residents with at least one dose increased to 42%, compared to 23% of Black residents and 21% of Hispanic residents.
With Thursday’s expansion of vaccine eligibility, the state’s equity targets will change again — the state is now asking providers to allocate 31% of their doses to vulnerable neighborhoods, an increase of 5% over the previous goal.
Emily Brindley can be reached at email@example.com.