Gov. Ned Lamont held a press conference Thursday, Sept. 23 to discuss the state’s current vaccination and case rates, how his administration will distribute booster shots now that the CDC has issued its approval, and other COVID-19 related news.

Statewide, COVID-case numbers are slowly declining in many areas, especially where vaccination rates are high. Test positivity rates are gradually decreasing (seven-day average of 2.7% vs. 3.5% one month ago) and there are now 282 people hospitalized, down from the current surge’s high of 391. The downward trend is being viewed by officials as the likely start of the Delta variant’s wane in CT, although health experts are still wary about what will happen as the weather turn colder and flu season picks up.

Lamont’s new commissioner-designee of the CT Department of Public Health, Dr. Manisha Juthani, an infectious disease physician at Yale School of Medicine, explained that during her first press conference appearance.

“We … have plateaued and potentially going further down, which is really good news for Connecticut. We need to continue our vaccination efforts so we can try to prevent any sort of surge that might come this winter. It’s unclear at this point, whether something else may happen, but things are looking very promising at this point. And as we get children eligible for vaccinations as well, there is the possibility that we will be able to continue looking better and better. But without vaccinating people and as many people in our state as we can, we run the risk of COVID-19 surging its ugly head again. So I am cautiously optimistic. It is the winter months when respiratory viruses circulate in general. So we have to be prepared for that. We have to be prepared for the worst, but I am cautiously optimistic,” she said.

Lamont noted that each new wave of positive cases that hits the state is successively less severe than the previous surge.

“You see 13 additional hospitalizations [today], which … we reached our peak in this latest Delta phase at about 391. Back, last winter, when you were at the heart of the flu season, we were 1,300. And back, well over a year and a half ago when we first got hit, we had 2,000 people in the hospitals and ICU. So again, 2,000 to 1,300 eight months ago to 391 now,” he said.

Lamont credited in part CT’s vaccination strategy for the state’s low test positivity rate and thanked CT residents for following the mitigation protocols.

“I hope you can see the relative progress we’re making is thanks to you. Thank you for being careful, thanks to you for keeping our schools open, wearing the masks and getting vaccinated,” he said.

Despite Connecticut having the lowest average number of daily cases in the country, and being number one nationally in the rate of fully vaccinated adults, Lamont cautioned against “put[ting] out the mission accomplished banner on the aircraft carrier.”

“Two things to remember here: we still have 600 people a day testing positive. We still have a few hundred in the hospital and remember, about a third of our population is either not vaccinated or eligible, meaning kids under the age of 12,” Lamont said. “I think it’s worth being cautious a little longer.”

That’s why, he added, he is pushing for the legislature to extend some of his emergency authorizations until Feb. 15, 2022. [More on that below]

Lamont said that while the state has made progress from about five weeks ago, when the case rate map showed almost every CT municipality at the highest red risk level, there are still some towns where the case rate remains too high.

Lamont said the state was prepared to roll out its COVID vaccine booster distribution plan as soon as the CDC approved its booster protocols.

Shortly after the governor’s press conference Thursday, that CDC endorsement came through for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine only, for people over the age of 65 and adults with underlying health conditions.

Then overnight, the CDC director Dr. Rachelle Wolinsky overruled the CDC panel and added people age 18-64 at higher risk of COVID due to health or their jobs — including teachers and healthcare workers — to the vaccine booster eligibility list.

Connecticut began administering booster shots on Friday. Eligible people can make an online appointment through the state’s website and many locations are also taking walk-up appointments.

Lamont estimated that the emergency use authorization for children age 5-11 will happen in about a month.

“I think that will be good news. That will mean we start getting young people in our schools vaccinated. And that may mean we can take a second look at some of the protocols we have as time goes on,” Lamont said.

Lamont has asked the CT legislature to extend some of the Emergency Orders he made during the pandemic. The current orders expire on Sept. 30.

Legislators will begin deliberating Lamont’s request during a special session that starts Monday, Sept. 27.

“I want their input. I want them to vote on our emergency orders. We’ve narrowed it down from three- or 400 down to 10, which are really key to keeping you safe, really key, strictly limited to pretty much the public health,” he said.

In a letter Lamont sent to legislative leaders asking for the special session, he wrote: “Several of the few remaining executive orders that remain in effect are critical to the State’s ability to continue our vaccination campaign and other critical safety measures, especially masking requirements in schools and certain high-risk settings.”

Among the executive orders on his list are:

  • vaccination access (ensuring that residents can get vaccinations and now booster shots at no cost);
  • vaccination and testing mandates (for nurses and frontline healthcare workers, school employees and state employees);
  • indoor mask requirements in high-risk locations (including health care facilities, nursing home, clinics, public transportation depots, airports, local buses);
  • indoor mask requirements in schools (for both students and education workers)
  • temporary staffing support for nursing homes;
  • UniteCT (administration of hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government to mitigate problems between landlords and tenants);

In his letter to lawmakers, Lamont emphasized his need to maintain flexibility and an ability to move quickly, due to “changing circumstances” that “… may require additional action with short notice and the flexibility to make rapid adjustments for which the legislative process is not well suited. The emergency declarations make possible, and therefore, should remain in place as we prepare for any possible winter surge and adjust our public health campaign to deal with this continuing emergency.”

Lamont later said he would reconsider a school mask mandate depending on how many CT children get vaccinated once it’s approved for the 5-11-year-old age group.

“We look at the facts on the ground. If we have an overwhelming number of our kids who were vaccinated by the end of December, you can take a look at that.” Lamont said.

Lamont’s Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe said the administration has been working on a plan for how vaccines would be distributed to children age 5-11.

“Our Department of Public Health has been working extensively with pediatrician practices, to help and get them enrolled in our immunization program for COVID-19 in anticipation of that. So, parents and their children should anticipate a lot of opportunities to be vaccinated and in the traditional healthcare settings that they’re used to … in addition to some of the more traditional vaccination sites that exist,” he said.

One thing that Dr. Juthani said was a concern for children was the threat from other viruses and the flu, especially as many children were not exposed last year during social distancing, masking and remote learning.

“One of the viruses we’ve been seeing a lot of in children is called respiratory syncytial virus or RSV. There are children that have been in the ICU and had been hospitalized, in part because some of these children may not have been exposed in the last season. They were doing school from home, they were masking, doing other things. Now, as some of those restrictions relaxed, starting in the summer, we saw more transmission of RSV, and in part, because there were more kids that were probably susceptible. In terms of flu, we’ve had no flu cases this year, yet. And last year we had such an exceedingly low number of cases of flu, that it is possible we will see a resurgence of flu this season as well, which is why as we’re headed into flu season, I really want to encourage people to get their flu shots, because we haven’t seen a lot of flu in the last year,” she said..

Data Updates on Breakthrough Cases in Connecticut

The CT DPH reported that as of Sept. 23, 2021, a total of 12,627 cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated persons in Connecticut have been identified. Of the more than 2.3 million people in Connecticut who have completed their vaccine series, 0.54% have contracted the virus.

Wilton cases and vaccination rates

In the last two weeks, Wilton case numbers have been reported as coming in spurts: several days pass with one, two or even no cases, and then suddenly the DPH will report a larger bump — 15 one-day new cases on Friday, Sept. 17, followed by only three cases over the weekend and reported Monday, Sept. 20. There were no cases on each of the next two days, but then again, on Thursday, Sept. 23, DPH reported nine new cases.

GMW reached out to First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice for an explanation. While she said the more than a dozen cases and close to 700 new tests reported by the DPH represented the state catching up on previously unreported statistics, the nine new cases on Thursday were reported accurately and in a timely way.

“The Wilton Health Department began contact tracing. By mid-day, not all had been reached, but six of the cases are family spread within two different families. The remaining three appear to be unrelated individuals,” she explained.

She noted that of the cases for which health officials knew the vaccination status, all were vaccinated, except one due to their age.

“[Thursday’s] cases are important reminders of the value of having received the vaccine and that there are many young residents still unable to benefit from the protections provided by the vaccine,” she said.

Wilton’s two-week positivity rate average has hovered around 2.5% for the last two weeks. Wilton has also added 54 new positive COVID cases thus far in September.

As of Sept. 22, 2021, the DPH reports that 78.3% of Wilton residents have gotten at least one vaccine dose, and 73.6% are fully vaccinated. For eligible residents, 92.8% have received the first dose, and 87.3% are fully vaccinated.

Number of residentsSept. 22, 2021percentagechange Sept. 15-22
Total Population18,343
one dose14,35678.26%43
two doses13,49173.55%41
Eligible Residents15,463
one dose14,35692.84%43
two doses13,49187.25%41

Wilton Public Schools and COVID

During Thursday evening’s (Sept. 23) Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Kevin Smith updated members about new COVID cases in the district and other COVID-related news. GOOD Morning Wilton has a separate article about that update.