“Tomorrow is a big day.”

That was Gov. Ned Lamont‘s understatement at his press briefing Thursday, March 18, acknowledging that Connecticut residents will wake up Friday to two major changes in the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response.

New People Eligible for Vaccines

The first change concerns vaccine eligibility–as of 12:00 a.m. today, people age 45-54 who live and work in CT are now eligible to register to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. While that group is a hefty 477,000 people (slightly less than the 55-64-year-old group, which numbered 500,000), Lamont estimates less than half of them will line up to get the vaccine.

That’s in part because 90,000 people in that age group have already gotten vaccinated (as healthcare workers, teachers or other eligible categories), and Lamont said that “quite a few other people may have some hesitancy, may not be rushing out tomorrow.”

All the same, Lamont still anticipates a significant number of people flooding the registration system on Friday and cautions that people may have to wait two- to three weeks for an available appointment.

“At the beginning of every new age cohort, as they come on, there tends to be a rush. That’s why I always urge patience, particularly for those who perhaps don’t have the same level of risk as other people. Let those that can’t telecommute, those who are forward-facing, those that maybe have some sort of a condition they think maybe puts them more at risk… give them a little bit of space. We’re going to have plenty of vaccines for everybody in this age cohort over the course of the next couple of weeks. And we’re going to have plenty of vaccines for everybody starting in less than a month,” he said.

So how much progress has the state already made?

Dr. Albert Ko, head of Epidemiology and Medicine at Yale and co-chair of Lamont’s COVID-19 Task Force, said the state’s vaccine rollout has “far exceeded” his expectations.

Almost two-thirds of the population 55-and-up have had their first dose. That includes what Lamont called an “overwhelming majority” (78%) of people age 75-and-above, three-quarters of people age 65-74, and almost half (46%) of the 55-64-year-olds.

Put another way, one-third of all adults (966,705) in the state have gotten their first dose and Lamont pointed out that by the press briefing on next Monday, that number will climb past one million.

What’s more, each time people in a new age group becomes eligible, Lamont said they’re getting vaccinated faster, mostly thanks to the state receiving a lot more vaccine doses.

So what do you need to know if you become eligible Friday and want to register to receive a COVID-19 vaccine?

There are multiple vaccine providers and ways to register, and the Town website has a convenient Coronavirus Resource page. But expect to have to try multiple times and experience some long waits. And make sure to have your health insurance card if you have one.

  • Search by zip code for vaccine providers, on the State of CT Vaccine Portal.
  • Hartford HealthCare
  • Yale NewHaven Health
  • Stamford Health
  • VAMS online system: VAMS is the Vaccine Administration Management System and can be used to schedule appointments at multiple clinics, including Norwalk Hospital, Danbury Hospital, and Griffin Health. Tips for using VAMS:
    • Registration is a two-step process:
      • First, request authorization. Enter your email address in all lower case.
      • Second, set up an account. When asked if you are registered, answer no.  (Wilton Social Services created a helpful video on how to use VAMS.

The system has generally allowed residents to request authorization the day before eligibility. (If your eligibility is listed on the drop-down menu, you can submit the request.) Eligibility confirmations generally have been received within 24 hours, but not earlier than just minutes before the start of the date of eligibility.

  • Call Connecticut’s COVID-19 Vaccine Appointment Assist Line:  877-918-2224. The assist line is open 8 a.m.-8 p.m., seven days a week.
  • Community Health Centers:  Scheduling an appointment with CHC requires registering through VAMS or calling CT’s COVID-19 Vaccine Appointment Assist Line
  • Walgreen’s:  Individuals need to set up a Walgreens.com account first.
  • CVS:  Individuals need to set up a CVS.com account first.
  • Walmart:  Individuals need to set up a Walmart.com account first.
  • Town of Wilton Waitlist:  The Town of Wilton has expanded its waitlist to include individuals age 45-54, as well as anyone who was previously eligible.

Any Wilton resident who is 45 years old and up, an educator/childcare provider, or Phase 1a eligible and is interested in receiving a first dose COVID-19 vaccine may submit the required CDC appointment information via the Town of Wilton website to be included on the town’s waitlist. Proof of eligibility status will be required.

Town officials will reach out if there is vaccine availability at an upcoming Wilton Health Department/Visiting Nurse (VNA) COVID-19 vaccine clinic. This is not a guarantee that anyone signed up on the waitlist will receive an appointment at any future Wilton Health Department/VNA clinic. Officials will make contact IF there is appointment availability.

Residents should continue to seek a vaccination appointment elsewhere.

Anyone who submits their name and is not eligible will have their request be discarded and will need to resubmit when they are eligible.

One thing all officials stress:  don’t make multiple appointments. Doing so will potentially prevent others from obtaining an appointment, and it may lead to wasted doses.

Restrictions Loosened on Indoor Capacities, Gathering Protocols and Travel Advisory

Lamont singled out restaurants as the first beneficiary of new sector guidelines that permit higher occupancy indoors, saying, “[Connecticut’s] great restaurants have earned the right to get up to 100% capacity.”

Joining the list with new, larger capacity allowances are libraries, museums, aquariums, gyms, fitness centers, retail offices, personal services (nail and hair salons), and houses of worship. Movie theaters and performing arts are staying at 50% capacity for now, however.

Also relaxing are limits on social and recreational gatherings. Now private residences can have 25 people indoors and 100 people outdoors; commercial venues can increase to 100 indoors and 200 outdoors. All

All sports will be allowed to practice and compete (subject to DPH guidance) and tournaments are allowed. Plus, Lamont has downgraded the state’s Travel Advisory from a mandate to guidance.

But more people and relaxed guidelines don’t mean residents can let their guard down. Lamont still wants people to continue wearing masks, testing and quarantining if unvaccinated, and being smart about staying away from parties that could be super-spreader events. And the CT Department of Public Health is encouraging people to continue following CDC guidance.

Still Concern about Other Variants

Despite the good news about the state’s progress on vaccine distribution, health officials like Dr. Ko are concerned about the Coronavirus variants that have been detected in the state. Ko reminded the public that the variants are more transmissible, more virulent–and carry a higher risk of hospitalization and death.

“[The U.K. variant has] caused this third wave in Europe and required lockdown. Paris just announced today that it will going to go lockdown for one month. And we really can’t repeat the mistakes that we’ve experienced in the United States and other states have gone in reopening too quickly and prematurely, such as in Florida, Texas among others,” he said.

Lamont provided a breakdown of which variants and how many cases have been reported in CT as of Thursday, March 18–including two cases of B.1.1.7 in Wilton:

B.1.1.7 (first detected in the United Kingdom): 283 cases
B.1.351 (first detected in South Africa): 7 cases
P.1 (first detected in Brazil): 1 case
P.1.427 (first detected in California): 1 case
P.1.429 (first detected in California): 3 cases

Wilton’s Case Numbers

Department of Public Health reported three new cases in Wilton on Thursday, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 1,022 cases.