CT positivity rate above 4 percent as researchers track COVID variants

Photo of Peter Yankowski

Connecticut’s daily positivity rate for COVID-19 remained above 4 percent on Wednesday as researchers continue to track COVID-19 variants across the state.

Statewide, 1,457 new COVID-19 cases were detected out of 33,848 tests as of Wednesday, bringing the daily positivity rate to 4.3 percent. The seven-day positivity rate sits just below 3.5 percent, the highest since early February.

Earlier this week, Gov. Ned Lamont said he heard that in New York as many as 50 percent of new COVID-19 cases could be from variants, but the picture was less clear in Connecticut.

“We don’t really know. We aren’t doing as much of that genetic sequencing as we could,” Lamont said Monday.

Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, said the state is working closely with the Yale School of Public Health, which is doing much of the sequencing and analysis of variants in Connecticut.

Josh Geballe

Josh Geballe

New Canaan Men's Club / Contributed photo

Geballe said Monday that the experts there believe about 30 to 40 percent of new cases are connected to the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19, the strain believed to have come from the U.K. “It is an estimate at this point,” Geballe said.

The state has confirmed 283 cases from the variant through time-consuming genetic sequencing. Data shows Connecticut has also recorded 46 cases of variants first detected in California, along with five cases of the B.1.351 variant first seen in South Africa and a single case of the P.1 variant first seen in Brazil.

The Yale School of Public Health is starting to look for the new variant that has surfaced in New York, referred to as B.1526, but no cases have been reported yet in Connecticut.

Mark Masselli, president and CEO of Community Health Center, said there's been an uptick in the positivity rate and testing volume across the network, which operates testing sites across the state.

“In the Danbury and Stamford area we are going to keep a close eye on it, the New York variant," Masselli said. “We want to make sure we are getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as we can so the virus can not get a foothold here.”

While the variants are something to keep an eye on, Keith Grant, Hartford HealthCare’s senior system director for infection prevention, does not thinks an uptick in cases may come down to people’s recent behaviors.

“I think it’s less about the variants than our strategies, our discipline, our attitude that has shifted a little bit,” said Grant, the network’s senior system director for infection prevention

He said some variants, including the B.1.1.7 and P.1 that have shown up in Connecticut, are of some concern.

“Appreciate the fact that the one true way to really stop the virus from mutating is to control the spread itself,” Grant said. “If we continue doing the things we did at the start of this… we will definitely get there. It’s not going to be a smooth road going down… but we do believe we are on the right track.”

Dr. David Banach, head of infection prevention at UConn Health, suggested the recent higher positivity rates could be the result of more people getting tested after feeling sick as more and more people get vaccinated.

Banach said hospitals are not informed if a patient they treated for COVID-19 later comes back as a case of one of the variants. While having that data might be useful for hospitals, “I don’t think it would change any of our infection control measures,” he said.

Given the time it takes to confirm a COVID-19 case is a variant, Dr. Michael Parry, Stamford Hospital’s head of infectious diseases, said patients will have already been cared for, so the information is not “clinically relevant.”

“The problem is that we just don’t know who has variants,” Parry said.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, cited concerns over the spreading variants this week after she acknowledged that both the Northeastern and Midwestern states are beginning to see a significant rise in cases.

“As I've stated before, the continued relaxation of prevention measures while cases are still high and while concerning variants are spreading rapidly throughout the United States is a serious threat to the progress we have made as a nation,” Walensky said Monday in a weekly White House briefing on the pandemic.

Walensky’s statement comes as Connecticut and other states recently eased restrictions. Last Friday, Connecticut lifted occupancy limits on many businesses and public venues while increasing the allowable gathering sizes. Connecticut has maintained requirements that people to wear masks and socially distance.

While Connecticut’s positivity rate has shown slight increases in recent weeks, it remains just one metric that state officials weigh when gauging whether to address restrictions on gatherings and businesses. Lamont has often cited hospitalizations as the key measure he will use to determine whether to ease or increase restrictions meant to curb the spread of the virus.

On Wednesday, a net bump of nine more patients brought the state’s hospital census for the disease up to 412— on par with the first week of November during the fall wave of infections. Seven more fatalities attributed to the illness bringing Connecticut’s official death toll to 7,852.

Parry noted that Stamford Hospital’s census of COVID-19 patients has trended downwards over the past several weeks, with just 16 patients reported as of Wednesday.

“I think we just need more vaccinations under our belts and a little more time,” Parry said.

The state continues to push forward with its vaccination program, reaching more than 1 million first doses this week. Officials said the state remains on track to launch universal adult vaccine eligiblity on April 5.

Staff Writer Nicholas Rondinone contributed to this story.