The News-Times

COVID SURGING AS STATE’S TEST PLAN COLLAPSES

State positivity tops 20% as hospitaliz­ations climb

- By Ginny Monk and Jordan Nathaniel Fenster

For a third day, Connecticu­t set a new high for the infection rate when just over 20 percent of new COVID-19 tests came back positive amid a surge in new cases.

The latest figures Thursday show that 7,704 new cases were found among 37,891 tests for a positivity rate of 20.33 percent, more than two percentage points greater than the previous pandemic high that was set on Wednesday.

While Connecticu­t experience­d staggering positivity rates early in the pandemic, testing was limited to those with symptoms and these latest numbers are high marks following a broad expansion of testing

in the spring of 2020.

Wednesday’s positivity rate was nearly 18 percent, and Tuesday’s was almost 15 percent, according to state figures. And Thursday’s rate — 20.33 percent, was up by more than 11 percentage points from a week earlier.

These highs come amid case number increases pushed largely by the spread of the omicron variant and group gatherings during the holiday season, officials have said.

Omicron and delta are the primary variants — making up almost all — of the cases doctors are seeing at Yale New Haven, said Dr. Tom Balcezak, chief clinical officer at the hospital.

“We’re seeing what’s going on regionally and around the country. I saw today reports that numerous states are seeing record numbers of cases since testing was widely made available. What it says to us is there is probably as much or more community spread than we’ve seen perhaps the entire pandemic. Which is why testing is important, however if people feel sick instead of rushing out to get a test, people should stay home and act as if they have the virus,” said Max Reiss, a spokespers­on for Gov. Ned Lamont.

The high numbers came on a day the state said an expected 500,000 test kits would not be arriving in time for the New Years weekend.

Lamont on Monday had announced that the state had secured a total of 1.5 million athome COVID-19 test kits and 6 million N95 masks to be distribute­d to residents. The plan was for towns and cities to collect an allotment of tests and then distribute them to residents.

Though town officials were initially told the tests would be available for pickup on Wednesday, the timeline was then pushed back to Thursday, but became less certain when Lamont said Thursday that supply chain issues were slowing the process of moving the tests from California.

The plan’s timeline fell apart Thursday, though, when Lamont said an issue with the deal with a California company meant that the tests wouldn’t arrive according to the timeline. A small fraction — less than 1 percent — had arrived via FedEx Thursday afternoon.

Thursday’s data report also showed infections among younger age groups have also risen. Cases were up by 7,704 Thursday, compared to Wednesday, according to the report.

The average daily rate of COVID-19 cases was highest for the 20 to 29 and 30 to 39 age groups at 127 cases per day, per 100,000 residents.

And 13 children were hospitaliz­ed at Yale as of Thursday, the highest number of hospitaliz­ed children that the health care system has seen through the entire pandemic, Balcezak said.

While the positivity rate and case numbers have been climbing, officials have been keeping a close watch on the state’s hospitaliz­ations, which Balcezak said are still largely among older age groups. The latest figures show a net of 38 additional patients entered Connecticu­t hospitals with COVID-19 for a total of 1,151, about 115 patients shy of the high seen last winter.

The majority of those hospitaliz­ed — 71.2 percent — aren’t fully vaccinated, the report Thursday from the state said. This number has dropped from Tuesday, when it was reported that 79.4 percent of the people in hospitals were not fully vaccinated.

Last week’s report shows that about 25 percent of those hospitaliz­ed with COVID-19 were fully vaccinated, while this week, about 29 percent of those hospitaliz­ed were fully vaccinated.

Still, the chances of contractin­g, being hospitaliz­ed with or dying from COVID-19 are much higher for the unvaccinat­ed, the report says.

“Even if you’re admitted, your chances of going to the ICU or dying are much lower,” Balcezak said of vaccinated people.

Much of that is simply a matter of math, Balcezak said. More vaccinated people means a higher proportion of infections will be among the vaccinated, although the vaccinatio­ns do help protect against infection, serious illness and death.

“If 100 percent of the people are vaccinated, then 100 percent of the hospitaliz­ations will be among vaccinated people,” he said.

And the state’s data doesn’t differenti­ate whether patients are being treated for COVID-19 or if they are being treated for another condition and doctors test them for COVID.

Many of these incidental infections are among vaccinated people, Balcezak said. The system has seen increased numbers of infections, for example, among pregnant women who are giving birth.

Almost all of the intensive care unit patients at Yale aren’t vaccinated, Balcezak said.

Unvaccinat­ed people have three times the risk of being infected, 12 times the risk of being hospitaliz­ed and 33 times the risk of dying from COVID-19 compared to people who are fully vaccinated, according to the report.

Breakthrou­gh cases, which are COVID-19 cases in people who have been fully vaccinated for at least 14 days, rose sharply in the past week. According to figures from the state, the total number grew by nearly 15,000 cases or about 34 percent. The state now says that 2.32 percent of fully vaccinated residents in Connecticu­t have contracted COVID-19.

The rising hospitaliz­ations have constitute­d a busy week for health care systems, said Kevin Dieckhaus, chief of UCONN Health’s infectious disease division.

"Our system is kind of stressed,” Dieckhaus said. “Our lab is basically running at full capacity.”

At Yale, staffing has been a concern, although the situation isn’t yet dire, Balcezak said.

“Staffing is a challenge because as we see the uptick in patients, we are also seeing an uptick in our staff testing positive which means that we’re out,” he said.

The system hasn’t yet adjusted staff-to-patient ratios, but is allowing staff that aren’t contagious to return to work after seven days, Balcezak added.

Brooks Walsh, an emergency room doctor at Bridgeport Hospital, said in early 2020, there were “virtually no other admissions aside from COVID.” The hospital was focused on COVID-19 patients.

“Now however, traumas, heart attack strokes and all the other injuries and ailments have come roaring back,” Walsh said. “Even without COVID a few months ago space was getting tight and resources were getting stretched.

“All that to say, the stout increase in hospitaliz­ations, bad as it is, still belies the outsized effect it has on everything happening in the hospital today,” Walsh said.

The state has also had 9,160 total COVID-19 associated deaths, a rise of 83 from Wednesday’s numbers. Deaths, often considered a lagging indicator in the pandemic, have risen slightly in recent weeks, up eight total since last week and nearly 30 from the week prior.

“If you haven’t been vaccinated yet and you haven’t had COVID, now is the time,” Balcezak said.

 ?? H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? Donald Wimbish, takes informatio­n at the SEMA4 testing site on Thursday in Danbury, where demand for tests has been high.
H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticu­t Media Donald Wimbish, takes informatio­n at the SEMA4 testing site on Thursday in Danbury, where demand for tests has been high.
 ?? Hearst Connecticu­t Media file photo ?? Stamford Hospital nurses wear protective gowns, gloves and masks in an area outside the hospital that has been set up to test for the COVID-19 virus in Stamford on March 17, 2020.
Hearst Connecticu­t Media file photo Stamford Hospital nurses wear protective gowns, gloves and masks in an area outside the hospital that has been set up to test for the COVID-19 virus in Stamford on March 17, 2020.

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