Gov. Ned Lamont appears to be getting ready to lift some COVID-19 restrictions, as he told members of the media at his Monday, March 1 press briefing.

He pointed to the stats from the past weekend–a positivity rate staying “quite low” at 2.6% over seven days; hospitalizations at a four-month low average; and fatalities that, while high, are trending lower–calling them positive indicators that the state is “making progress in the war against COVID.”

“That’s why on Thursday, [March 4], we’re going to be able to make some announcements in terms of our cautious reopening, in terms of capacity for our stores and our restaurants and our retail and personal services,” he said.

He also hinted that changes would be coming to the state’s travel advisory restrictions.

“We’ll be opening up the travel a little bit more, trying to get some confirmation from my fellow governors,” he told reporters.

Progress with Vaccines

On the vaccine front, Lamont was optimistic and proud about the state’s progress. He estimated that “probably over a million people in the state of CT have received their first vaccination shot [as of] today.”

The CT Department of Public Health reports that 75% of state residents 75-and-older and 52% of CT residents age 65-74 have been vaccinated.

Adding to Lamont’s optimism was news that 39,000 doses of the newest FDA-approved vaccine from Johnson & Johnson will arrive in CT this week. The additional doses offer timely help just as the state opened up vaccine appointment registration to residents age 55-and-up as well as teachers and childcare providers on Monday.

“As you can imagine, the phones were very busy. The websites were very busy. Most of the slots filled up quite quickly, within a few hours,” he said, adding that with the additional J&J doses arriving, more appointments will become available over the course of this week.

The state has ramped up vaccine distribution, from 50,000 doses given per week just one month ago to 156,000 total doses this week.

While Lamont isn’t sure if that pace can be sustained, he did tout how quickly CT is getting shots in more arms (20% of the population) compared to other states (15% of the population).

“We have 160,000 more people in CT who have been vaccinated than would otherwise be the case based upon the national average. That saves lives, that keeps people out of the hospital, that stops the spread, … gives us a better chance to keep our schools open. Our schools are more likely to be open than anybody else in the region [It] allows us to continue to reopen businesses, and what that means for jobs and what that means for getting this pandemic behind us,” he said.

Lamont acknowledged that some newly-eligible people were frustrated with registering for vaccine appointments, either not finding any availability or only finding openings much later than they expected. He urged them to be patient.

“We’ve got about 500,000 people all going for those 100,000 doses. So you can see there’s going to be a bit of a line right now, but if we had done it the other way we would have had about 1.8 million people all trying to go for those same number of doses. So it is going to take a little bit of patience, but I think it’ll sort itself out over the next week or so,” he said.

The governor’s team is also confident that anyone eligible in the 55-64-year-old age group who wants a vaccine will have the opportunity to get the vaccine in the next three weeks, by the time they expect to open appointments to the next group, 45-54-year-olds.

Lamont continued to defend his decision to proceed with vaccine distribution using solely an age-based schedule, rather than follow recommendations from federal health officials and his own Vaccine Allocation Committee.

Not only did he say it contributes to speeding up vaccine distribution to residents, he maintained his age-based plan makes sense for equity and for public health.

“We’ve had 7,600 fatalities related to COVID over the last year here in the state of Connecticut. The vast majority of them are people over the age of 65. And over half of those 65 have been vaccinated. You see what a difference that’s making. But you even see in the younger age groups here that 55-64, you’re probably 20 times more likely to suffer complications, 20 times more likely hospitalizations and fatalities than those in their thirties. So it makes an enormous difference,” he said, adding, “So age prioritizes public health and age is simpler and that means equity.”

Lamont also spoke to ensuring “no underserved community is left behind,” especially those hardest hit by the COVID pandemic.”

“Working closely with the federally qualified health centers, the hospitals, the pharmacies, local health departments, and we have gone to the 50 most disadvantaged zip codes in the state of Connecticut–based on poverty levels, dense housing, multi-generational housing, those communities where you’re most likely to have the spread of the virus. And sometimes those very same communities are less likely to get vaccinated. So we’re reaching out aggressively to those communities,” he said, adding that 25% of the vaccine doses the state receives will be allocated to those targets.

Vaccinating Teachers a Priority

Lamont said that vaccinating teachers is a state priority, and it is allocating vaccines for educators to local departments of health across CT. In turn, those local health officials will coordinate with school districts and licensed childcare facilities how and when teachers will be vaccinated.

Acting Commissioner of CT DPH Deirdre Gifford said that her department communicated to local health departments and made clear that anyone who had been scheduled to receive vaccines before the governor prioritized teachers should not be bumped or turned away.

But she wanted to encourage anyone who could schedule an appointment outside of a local health department to try and access a vaccine that way, to make it easier for towns to vaccinate teachers.

“It’s a little more of a blended message than that, and most of our local health departments are working with your school departments and childcare providers and figuring out ways to do both.

Want to know more about how Wilton is handling the vaccine appointment process for teachers? We’ve got more coverage, today on GMW…