COVID-19 Update, March 26–The GOOD & the Bad News: Outdoor Dining, Faster Vaccines, But Rising Cases

The major news that came out of Gov. Ned Lamont‘s press briefing on Thursday, March 25, was the announcement of the governor’s plan to speed up the COVID-19 vaccination timetable, making all people age 16-44 eligible for the vaccine on Thursday, April 1. 

The GOOD news came thanks to the state’s progress in vaccinating the age groups (45-and-older) already eligible. Lamont lauded the state’s vaccination rate as one of the top three in the country.

“Because of the accelerating ability to get people vaccinated, we’re getting people vaccinated at a higher percentage, and more importantly, we’re getting a lot more vaccines,” he said.

“We’ve got 80% of our folks, 75-and-above, [vaccinated]. If we can get 80% of all of our population we’ll be doing pretty well. And 38% of all of our adults, 16-and-above have now received their first dose, 38% and that’s ramping up,” he said, adding that next week there will be an additional 200,000 vaccinations appointments available.

It’s the state’s age-based approach to rolling out the vaccine distribution that Lamont says has made a difference and saved lives.

“That represents tens of thousands of people who have been vaccinated, who are safe and that’s reflected in lower complications and fatalities.

Rising Numbers

Despite vaccination efforts, the northeast states are still the country’s hotspot and lead the country in infections. Lamont warned residents not to let their guard down. “It looks a little bit like the chart maybe did [last] spring when you saw the virus coming up from the New York Metro area.”

Among the metrics he pointed out is the test positivity rate creeping up from a seven-day average of 2.2% to 3.7%. Thursday, CT reported 1,489 new cases, and officials point to new and more contagious strains of the virus for the likely reason behind the uptick.

The infections are also creeping up in the young-adult age groups, ages 20-29 and 30-39. “It’s a younger demographic, less complications but perhaps a little less caution as well,” Lamont commented.

Hospitalizations are also up, rising by 23 in just one day. Stamford Health CEO Kathleen Silard was at the briefing with Lamont. “I’m always reminded when I walk through the ICU that this is not over and we have to stay vigilant on everything we’re doing,” she said.

Lamont’s hope is that moving up the vaccination timetable will help. Of course, officials anticipate that there will be a “rush at the gate” on April 1, as residents flood the online and phone scheduling systems, as has happened each prior time a new group has become eligible to get vaccine appointments.

“We understand that, but we’re finding we had a fair number of doses available in our appointment schedule as days went on,” he said, adding that anyone age 45 and older who still needs an appointment should be able to next week. “Check frequently because every day we get new doses, new, appointments open up and that’ll be a very important opportunity.”

Vaccines for Teens, and Prioritizing At-Risk Groups

The total population of the next eligible age cohort (16-44) is about 1.3 million people, but officials expect somewhere around 600,000 people will be looking for appointments starting April 1. “We’ll be in a position in a relatively short period of time, probably before the end of April, where everyone in this state who wants to get a vaccine will have the ability to get one,” explained Josh Geballe, the governor’s COO.

Officials hope that the youngest people eligible–from 16 to the “young 20s”–without co-morbidities let others register first.

“We’re not going to be setting up dedicated clinics in the first days for high schools or colleges, for example. But as we get later in the month into April, into May, we will look to provide more dedicated access, particularly as we get more Pfizer [doses],” Geballe added, referencing the one vaccine currently approved for 16- and 17-year-olds. “We’re also going to add a filter to the vaccination finder on our website for people who 16 and 17.”

Teens under 18 will also likely have to have a parent or guardian present.

Lamont said more information will be forthcoming on how the state will prioritize people in the new cohort with medical conditions.

Outdoor Dining

One bright spot–the CT House of Representatives voted unanimously to extend relaxed outdoor dining rules for another year, until March 2022.

The bipartisan proposal allows local municipalities to amend zoning regulations to allow outdoor dining, waive parking requirements, and use sidewalks for restaurant activities.

Gov. Lamont applauded the move in a statement Thursday evening.

“These relaxed rules could be the start of a new Connecticut tradition that increases activity in our towns. One positive outcome of this unfortunate pandemic has been that we’ve been thinking about new, creative ways to offer activities outdoors, including at restaurants. Expanded outdoor dining has created a vibrancy in many of our neighborhoods in ways that we haven’t seen before, all while supporting locally-owned, small businesses,” he wrote. He encouraged the state Senate to pass the measure when it is likely to take it up next week, “so that I can sign it into law.”

Wilton Data

In her nightly email to residents, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice cautioned that Wilton’s case rate is rising too.

“During the first three days of this week, Wilton averaged 6.33 cases per day versus 2.67 for the same three-day period in the two previous weeks,” she said.

She also attributed the growth to more contagious variants, and shared a personal anecdote as a cautious warning to families.

“Yesterday, my husband received a text from a business associate about his very recent experience with COVID. The individual lives in a neighboring community and has worked from home since last March. Five family members, two adults and three school-aged children. One COVID-positive child passed the virus to three of the four other family members. Two of the three were asymptomatic. The third went from one day feeling ill to five days in the hospital. Fortunately, all are fine, but this is just one of many area stories of family spread and the varied impact within the family.”

Wilton is still a red zone community. Vanderslice shared the 14-day average daily new cases for Wilton and its neighboring towns, noting that all rates were up, with the exception of New Canaan, which experienced an increase in the prior week.

14-day average daily new cases per 100,000 residents
14-day Period Darien New Canaan Ridgefield Weston Westport Wilton
March 7-20 25.0 24.4 34.3 31.4 28.5 23.7
Feb. 14-27 18.7 34.6 14.9 18.1 16 20.6
Feb. 720 20.4 25.8 16.6 12.5 13.5 15.9
Jan. 31-Feb. 13 25.0 16.6 17.7 18.1 16.5 19.4
Jan. 24-Feb. 6 25.6 17 22 23 26.2 28.3
Jan. 17-30 30.5 21.6 29.1 27.2 30.2 34.9
Jan. 10-23 39.4 27.6 29.7 30.7 34.6 30
Jan. 3-16 56.5 49.8 36 41.1 41.2 34.2
Dec. 27-Jan. 9 57.8 65.4 39.7 41.8 38.4 36.1
Dec. 20-Jan. 2 34.1 47.7 34.8 36.9 27.2 20.2
Dec. 13-26 37.8 40.3 29.4 25.8 21.6 14.8
Dec. 6-19 34.8 35.3 24 16.7 22.4 17.1

 

Vanderslice reported on Wilton’s vaccine data as well. As of Monday evening, CT DPH reports:

  • 33% of Wilton residents had received at least a first dose.
  • 99% of Wilton residents aged 65-and-up had received at least a first dose.
  • 26.5% of Fairfield County residents had received at least a first dose

Wilton’s one-day new case count was 6 cases, now at a total of 1,489 since the start of the pandemic. The town’s test positivity rate is 5.31%.