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Despite Gov. Ned Lamont’s assurance Monday that trendlines “continue downward in all the key metrics that make a difference,” Connecticut continues to see an increase in COVID-19 cases and positivity rate, as the Northeast reemerges as a relative coronavirus hot spot.
The state’s seven-day positivity rate now stands at its highest level since February, while hospitalizations have flattened after a sustained period of decrease. Meanwhile, Connecticut ranks seventh nationally in daily cases per capita recorded over the past week, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lamont argued Monday that Connecticut’s total case count was not worth particular concern, noting that Connecticut conducts more testing than many other states, but acknowledged that COVID-19 continues to pose a threat.
“This is no time for us to relax,” the governor said. “We’re looking at New York, we’re looking at Massachusetts. Things have ticked up a little there.”
In light of the recent COVID-19 uptick in the Northeast and elsewhere, which could owe to the spread of the B117 variant, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned Monday against dramatically relaxing COVID-19 restrictions, as Connecticut did last week.
“We’re reaching out to individual states, trying to encourage them,” she said, according to the New York Times. “We are having weekly governors’ calls. We’re doing outreach with states, territories to encourage them to look at their case data, to look at what’s happening with the variants, and to do as much outreach as we can to try and — to slow down the relaxation.”
While Connecticut last week lifted its travel restrictions and allowed restaurants and businesses to operate at full capacity, with social distancing, other states have taken a more cautious approach. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday that the high rate of infection in his state means he will not ease pandemic restrictions anytime soon.
In Connecticut, Lamont reported 2,976 new coronavirus cases out of 82,870 tests since Friday, for a positivity rate of 3.6%. The state’s seven-day positivity rate now stands at 3.3%, highest since Feb. 10.
Connecticut currently has 389 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, down 13 from Friday but roughly flat over the past two weeks following a long period of steady decline.
The state reported nine more coronavirus-linked deaths Monday, bringing its total to 7,841 during the pandemic. Deaths have dipped lately, particularly among the state’s oldest residents, who have the highest rates of vaccination.
Though Connecticut’s numbers are much lower than they were in December and January, they have not declined as quickly as hoped — a trend that appears to go deeper than just testing levels. Some experts have pointed to the B117 variant, originally identified in the United Kingdom, which has spread significantly in the Northeast, with 283 cases identified in Connecticut so far.
Researchers at the Yale School of Public Health report that as of March 6, B117 cases made up about 36% of cases analyzed, primarily in New Haven County.
Weeks later the share may be higher. Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer, said Monday that the B117 variant would be the state’s dominant strain by the end of March, as previously predicted by Dr. Anthony Fauci and others, if it isn’t already.
The good news for Connecticut is that the state continues to rapidly vaccinate its population, ranking fourth nationally with about 30% of residents having received at least one dose. That figure includes:
79% of residents 75 and older
76% of those 65-74
53% of those 55-64
22% of those 45-54
36% of all everyone 16 or older
Lamont noted that another large group may have some level of immunity from prior infection.
“That gives us a little bit of protection over and above the number who have been vaccinated,” Lamont said. “I think that’s going to make a difference moving forward.”
Officials said Monday that vaccine supply from the federal government is expected to increase further in the coming weeks, leaving Connecticut on track to make all residents 16 and older eligible for vaccination on April 5. Since last Friday, about 80,000 people between the ages of 45 and 54 have signed up for vaccine appointments.
Lamont again touted his age-based vaccine distribution strategy, which was designed to be simpler and more straightforward than plans implemented in other states.
“So far the numbers bear out our strategy,” Lamont said. “I think we’re ahead of this variant and we’ll be okay.”
Still, the governor’s age-based approach has so far been unsuccessful at combating dramatic disparities in who gets vaccinated. State numbers show that rural and suburban municipalities continue to receive more vaccine doses than cities and that white residents continue to get vaccinated at a higher rate than Black, Latino and Asian residents.
Lamont on Monday announced the coming rollout of 35 mobile vaccination vans, which will be able to administer up to 160 doses a day beginning in April.
“They’ll be in the church parking lot at the end of the service,” the governor said. “They’ll be in other congregate settings, housing. We’re taking the vaccine to you to do everything we can to expand our reach.”
Alex Putterman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.