New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
A COVID-19 PEAK?
Numbers raising hope and debate
The latest coronavirus numbers released by the state include hopeful signs that the Delta-driven, summertime surge in Connecticut is subsiding, although a consensus is far from clear.
Combined with a flattening national trend and some decreases in two crucial measures, optimism is running high as many schools returned for the academic year.
Data released Monday show hospitalizations rising by two patients over the weekend for a total of 380. That is up by 11 from one week ago, after increases of 84, 77 and 60 in the three previous weeks. It’s also down from a high of 391 last Tuesday.
The report Monday, based on totals since Friday, also shows 1,361 new COVID-19 cases out of 43,879 tests, a positive test rate of 3.1 percent. That brings the 7-day average positivity rate to 3.42 percent, down from 3.55 percent from one week ago after it had climbed from 2.26 percent in the prior two weeks.
“It certainly seems that way,” Howard Forman, a professor of radiology and biomedical imaging at Yale
School of Public Health, said Monday when asked whether Connecticut is flattening the curve as Gov. Ned Lamont suggested late last week.
“We have both case and hospitalization data that looks more favorable,” he said, although he warned the surge could return.
Some experts in Connecticut, including Yale epidemiologist Dr. Albert Ko, had predicted the latest surge would wane by the end of September, around the same time the governor’s pandemic-related emergency powers are due to expire.
A UConn researcher said Monday he believes the number of people in Connecticut hospitals will rise further before declining, although he, like others, said patterns are harder to discern now than in previous surges.
The state’s improved outlook, as indicated in Monday’s numbers, comes as the pace of infections is slowing nationally. States such as Louisiana and Missouri, among the first to have summer surges, are experiencing continued declines in recent weeks, the New York Times reported.
Across the United States and in the two largest states, California and Texas, the positive test rate has turned downward, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation and Johns Hopkins University — from a much higher plateau of more than 10 percent nationally.
That far higher level across the nation is partly the result of lower numbers of tests in most other states and partly that New England is the least hard-hit region in the nation. Only four states — Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts, had fewer than 100 people in hospitals per 1 million residents as of last week, Kaiser Family Foundation data showed.
Connecticut was barely above that level, while the entire Southeast was at more than 300, and in most states, more than 400 people in hospitals per 1 million residents.
Several factors could “completely stop a plateau,” Forman said, such as schools and universities re-opening with students gathering in-person and other activities.
“I think the overall evidence for Connecticut is favorable,” Forman said, but he added that he doesn’t think the state has “quite” hit a peak in the number of summertime coronavirus infections.
Pedro Mendes, a professor of computational systems biology at the University of Connecticut, is running six different models projecting hospitalizations that range widely from the state’s current total — 380 — being the peak, to reaching just below 600 patients in a week or two. Mendes said he expects hospitalizations to reach between 400 and 500 in another week before declining.
The data can get “very noisy” at the peak, he said, adding the numbers go up and down, they’re not “as well defined as you would like to see.”
At this point in the pandemic, with vaccinations, the full reopening of schools and businesses, and the highly contagious Delta variant circulating, predictions are harder to make than during previous surges, particularly during lockdowns, Mendes said.
State public health officials and the office of Gov. Ned Lamont, urging people to get vaccinated and wear masks indoors, have declined to characterize the latest numbers — other than Lamont’s comments Friday.
Regardless of whether the state has reached a peak in infections and hospitalizations, the levels remain well below what’s been seen in previous surges including the middle of last December, as vaccinations began. Connecticut reported a peak of daily hospitalizations at 1,269 on Dec. 14 and several thousand new infections per day.
Lamont said at a press conference in Danbury last week that while the state’s COVID-19 metrics have stayed relatively flat, we’re still not “out of the woods.” But with an 84 percent vaccination rate, the governor said he was hopeful about the state’s progress as students return to schools.