Lamont: COVID omicron variant likely ‘here already’ in CT

A 5-year-old child receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for 5-11 year old kids at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, on Nov. 2, 2021.

A 5-year-old child receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for 5-11 year old kids at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, on Nov. 2, 2021.

Joseph Prezioso / Getty Images

COVID-related hospitalizations in Connecticut are as high as they were in April, with the number of coronavirus tests coming back as positive edging closer to 7 percent Thursday, only to dip back down to 5.3 percent Friday.

The state reported an additional 863 COVID cases Friday, and an increase of six hospitalizations, increasing the total to 420 patients.

Dr. Ulysses Wu, infectious disease specialist at Hartford HealthCare, said he doesn’t expect this winter’s surge to be “as bad as last year.” However, despite some resistance from state and local leaders, Wu said he anticipates some Connecticut municipalities will reinstate mask and social distancing mandates “once the numbers start going up.”

“They’re coming. I think they will come,” Wu said. “Government action tends to lag cases by a good couple months.”

Gov. Ned Lamont on Friday said he expects the omicron variant is already present in Connecticut, but did not suggest he would introduce any new restrictions or mandates.

“My assumption is that the new variant is here already in Connecticut,” Lamont said, speaking to reporters after an unrelated event in Oxford. “We’re doing more genetic testing than just about any state.”

He said the positivity rate over the last week was around 5.7 percent.

“To say we’re the lowest in the region gives you no comfort at all,” the governor added.

He said that while the omicron variant appears to be “very infectious,” vaccination and booster shots, in particular, seemed to be effective.

But despite the potential threat of the variant, Lamont indicated Friday Connecticut will not reinstate travel restrictions on neighboring states, noting that surrounding areas have similar infection rates and the difficulty of enforcing such restrictions.

The governor also indicated cases and hospitalizations have not risen to the level where he would reinstate the state’s mask mandate or reintroduce lockdowns. Under Lamont’s executive orders, local authorities have the option to institute universal mask mandates as they deem fit, but the state’s universal indoor masking requirement expired months ago.

But Lamont was vague about what could trigger such a move.

“There’d have to be such severe community spread and a sense that the people of Connecticut were not doing the right things on their own — I don’t see that happening,” he said.

As concerns grow about the omicron variant, here are five things you need to know about the state of COVID in Connecticut:

1. Omicron is not here yet

Officials in New York said they have so far identified five cases of the omicron variant, one on Long Island, two in Queens, one in Brooklyn and one in Manhattan. But, as of Friday, no cases of omicron have been identified in Connecticut.

According to data released by the state Thursday, more than half of all tested samples so far, 55.9 percent, have been the delta variant. Another 18.2 percent were the B.1.1.7 variant, known as alpha.

Delta is, according to state data, the only variant known to be circulating, comprising 100 percent of all tested samples in recent weeks.

Nathan Grubaugh, who runs the Yale lab responsible for genomic sequencing the lion’s share of those samples tested in Connecticut, said “it's possible that omicron is already in Connecticut, but not yet at a high prevalence.”

Laboratories in the state, including Grubaugh’s, test as many as 650 samples per week, about 10 to 30 percent of the total cases each week in the state.

2. Vaccinated people are catching the virus

The state said Thursday that 25,179 cases of COVID-19 had been identified among fully vaccinated people in Connecticut.

There have been, since vaccinations began in the state, 2,432,105 people fully vaccinated, of whom 1.04 percent have contracted the virus.

Of the 25,179 breakthrough cases, 205 have died as a result of the virus, 14.8 percent of all COVID-19 deaths since vaccinations began.

Those deaths are largely among older patients with people 75 and over comprising 72.2 percent of COVID-related deaths.

According to state data, unvaccinated people are five times more likely to be infected with the coronavirus, 33 times more likely to die of a COVID infection and 11 times more likely to be hospitalized for the disease.

3. COVID is spreading more in schools

The state said 1,248 cases of COVID-19 had been identified in public and private schools the week of Dec. 1, more than double from a month ago. On Nov. 3, the state said 481 cases had been identified in schools.

Staff in schools are catching the coronavirus, too, though a far smaller number. The state said 283 cases had been identified in public and private school staff the week of Dec. 1, up from 103 on Nov. 3.

A larger percentage of cases among staff are vaccinated compared to students. Of the 283 identified cases in staff, 196 are in vaccinated patients, compared to 94 of the 1,248 cases in students.

4. Vaccinations are still low among children

The state said Thursday that 2,477,855 people in Connecticut had been fully vaccinated, and another 277,793 had been partially vaccinated.

Booster shots and third doses are still lagging, though, with only 610,733 administered as of Thursday.

Older Connecticut residents are widely vaccinated, 95 percent of people aged 65 and over and 94 percent of people between the ages of 55 and 64.

Only 24 percent of people ages 5 through 11 are vaccinated, according to the state. That age group became eligible to get vaccinated against COVID on Nov. 2.

5. COVID is circulating in the community

In the period between Nov. 14 and Nov. 27, 135 municipalities had a daily average rate of 15 or more COVID cases per 100,000 people.

All told, over the previous two weeks, there were 11,001 new COVID-19 cases identified, “including cases among people residing in the community and congregate settings, such as nursing homes, managed residential communities, and correctional facilities,” the state said.

During that two-week period, there were 100 additional COVID cases in 36 Connecticut towns.

Excluding congregate settings, such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities and correction facilities, there were 10,924 cases “among people living in community settings” in the two weeks ending Nov. 27, the state said.

That’s an average of 21.89 new COVID cases per 100,000 people per day in Connecticut towns.