COVID hospitalizations continue decline as CT to expand vaccine eligibility

Photo of Peter Yankowski

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Connecticut continued to decline on Friday, but the statewide official death toll surpassed 7,500.

Thirty-three fewer patients were hospitalized, dropping the statewide total to 535 — the lowest it’s been since Nov. 8, well before a spike in cases health officials believe were related to the November and December holidays.

But 27 more deaths attributed to the virus brought the state’s death toll to 7,523 as of Friday.

Amid the declining metrics, Gov. Ned Lamont is expected to provide more details Monday on a vaccination plan for frontline essential workers and those with underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk of complications from the disease.

The state so far is only vaccinating those 65 and up in the general population. Residents of congregate settings like prisons and homeless shelters are also being vaccinated, along with residents and staff of long-term care facilities, medical first responders and frontline health care workers.

While Lamont said all of the state’s essential workers — some 325,000 people — will likely be eligible for the vaccine within about two weeks of each other, it’s less clear if those with medical conditions will be phased-in in tiers based on higher risk.

Most of the health conditions listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as putting people at greater risk of death or severe illness from COVID-19 would be documented in a patient’s medical history. The list includes Down syndrome, pregnancy, obesity and heart conditions. Smoking is included, something the governor has noted.

“For the people with underlying conditions, we were talking about doctors perhaps reaching out to those who have the most severe conditions,” Lamont said Thursday during his press briefing.

Lamont spoke of wanting to avoid overcrowding at vaccination sites and creating delays in the appointment process by opening eligibility to too many people at once. But by the same token, he said the group of essential workers is “pretty narrow” and comparable in size to those between the ages of 65 and 74 recently made eligible.

Hospitalizations have been trending downward for nearly a month. Citing the state’s declining COVID-19 metrics, Lamont announced this week he plans to raise the cap on events at commercial venues, such as weddings, beginning March 19. Indoor venues will be limited to half their capacity, or a maximum of 100 people, while outdoor events will be limited to 200 people.

The one-day positivity rate on Friday also remained relatively low at 2.58 percent, with 1,198 positive cases found from 46,396 tests.

Cases of COVID-19 among residents at nursing homes, one of the earliest groups to receive the vaccine, have dramatically declined. On Thursday, the state reported 30 new cases among residents, down 42 percent from the previous week. Deaths among residents, a lagging indicator, were down to 10 from 17 the previous week.

Notably, more cases were found among nursing home staff than residents in each of the past two weeks, a population the governor has noted as having some reluctance to get inoculated.

Lamont underscored declining cases as a sign of the vaccine’s effectiveness, noting cases had fallen from 483 on Jan. 5 to 30 in little over a month.

“That’s a reminder: A, get your vaccination, B, it works and it’s safe,” he said.