While Connecticut has emerged as one the nation’s leaders in its distribution rate of COVID-19 vaccines, the state’s daily positivity rate surpassed 9 percent Wednesday for the first time since late May.
The 1,696 new COVID infections were found in 18,548 tests for a positivity rate of 9.14 percent. The seven-day positivity rate also increased slightly to 6.18 percent.
There were 59 fewer hospitalizations on Wednesday, but 40 more deaths were recorded, increasing the state’s overall COVID death toll to nearly 6,000.
But it wasn’t all bad news on Wednesday.
Gov. Ned Lamont touted the nearly 55,000 COVID vaccines the state has administered, ranking among the nation’s leaders in distribution rate.
Connecticut has distributed doses of the vaccine to a little more than 1.5 percent of its more than 3.5 million residents, according to data tracking by Bloomberg. New York lags slightly behind, despite having more vaccines administered overall, with a little more than 1 percent of its nearly 20 million residents vaccinated.
New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have all vaccinated less than 1 percent of their populations, according to Bloomberg's data.
But other states around the country are doing better than the northeast. West Virginia, which began vaccinating people at nursing homes earlier than other states, has vaccinated more than 2.1 percent of its population. South Dakota, which saw a high death rate this fall, has also vaccinated a comparable percentage of its population.
With 54,727 vaccinations administered so far, Connecticut is on track to complete the Phase 1A first round by the end of January. Phase 1B guidelines are expected to be released next week.
During his 120th press briefing since the pandemic began, Lamont reflected Wednesday how far Connecticut has come since he announced the state’s first case at Danbury Hospital in early March.
“That was the wake-up call,” the governor said. “We had to do the best we could, find the best minds we could to advise us, and then explain every day what we were doing, why we were doing it and why we thought it was going to make a difference.”
Lamont said he’s joining other northeast governors in extending a ban on interstate public and private hockey through Jan. 31. The ban does not affect college or professional hockey.
Lamont also announced an additional $31.2 million in funding for nursing homes, which have been hard hit throughout the pandemic.
The plan will run in two phases, providing homes with the equivalent of a 10 percent Medicaid rate increase for November and December, and a 5 percent increase in January and February.
The money requires homes to continue following the state’s public health guidelines, among other requirements, such as starting to eliminate rooms with three or four beds.
As concerns have been raised about a mutated strain of the coronavirus reaching the United States, Deidre Gifford, the commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, said Connecticut can prepare for the likely arrival of the strain by continuing to follow public health guidelines.
“Wearing a mask, avoiding gathering with people outside of our household, keeping your physical distance from individuals when you are together — it’s the same strategies that we’ve been applying throughout the pandemic,” Gifford said.
Dr. David Banach, head of infection prevention at UConn Health, said the new strain is a reason to “double down” on things like mask wearing, hand hygiene and social distancing.
“I think there’s a reasonable suspicion that it could be spreading within the United States,” Banach said. “I don’t think that necessarily changes what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis.”
He said the strain is also reason to increase lab capacity to “sequence” samples of the virus drawn from positive test kits so health officials can learn if and when there’s a mutation.
That type of lab work is more intensive than what hospital or private labs processing tests results normally handle, he said.
Gifford stressed there is no indication the COVID vaccines will be ineffective against the mutated strain. She said the new strain does not make people more sick and does not make them more likely to be hospitalized, but she said it is likely more contagious.
“It’s just a reminder to keep our guard up,” Gifford said.
After a spike of cases around Thanksgiving, Lamont urged caution about gathering for New Year’s.
“I can’t sit around enforcing what happens in your private residence,” he said, but asked residents to avoid large gatherings.
“I know how aggravating this is to hear me say the same thing over and over again,” Lamont said.
Bars and restaurants, which must close by 10 p.m., will face fines if they stay open later, the governor said.
“We’re gonna be strict. Ten o’clock is 10 o’clock,” Lamont said, adding that fines will be enforced for any establishment trying to skirt the closure time because of the holiday. “We can’t go backwards.”