COVID at 8-month lows, parades, free meals: CT can see crisis ending

Photo of Ken Dixon
Students including West Rocks Middle School 7th grader Joniel Laldez get vaccinated by RN Elin Jokl at the Norwalk Public Schools COVID vaccine clinic Thursday, May 20, 2021, in the Norwalk Community Health Center mobile unit at West Rocks Elementary School in Norwalk, Conn.

Students including West Rocks Middle School 7th grader Joniel Laldez get vaccinated by RN Elin Jokl at the Norwalk Public Schools COVID vaccine clinic Thursday, May 20, 2021, in the Norwalk Community Health Center mobile unit at West Rocks Elementary School in Norwalk, Conn.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

HARTFORD — COVID-19 infection rates fell below 1 percent for the week on Monday for the first time since last summer, on a day when Connecticut saw several signs that the state is emerging almost completely from the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to the plummeting infection rate as a percentage of tests, mass vaccination centers are winding down; hospitalizations for COVID are nearly down to 100; and Gov. Ned Lamont said he’s nearing the end of his twice-weekly, live coronavirus updates.

And it’s in time for the Memorial Day weekend — along with a new incentive program of free meals for people getting vaccinations.

While some cautious towns have suspended holiday parades for the second year in a row, Lamont on Monday said he looks forward to attending commemorations over the weekend in the state, where 1.78 million people have been fully vaccinated.

The weekend’s 0.9 percent infection rate, with 386 positive findings coming from a total of 42,776 COVID tests, kept the state below the 1 percent infection level for an entire week. That has not happened since September.

The 7-day rate stood at 0.976 percent Monday. With 1,072 cases, the state was 26 cases short of the 1 percent mark. The nation as a whole, meanwhile, stood at 8.7 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation — perhaps reflecting a sharp decline in tests in many places.

The state reported seven new fatalities over the last three days, bringing the Connecticut death toll to 8,219. There was a net reduction of 12 patients in hosoitals, bringing the total hospitalized to a 127, also the lowest in eight months.

While 93 percent of those 65 and over have gotten at least their first shot, 27 percent of 12-to-15 year-olds have been inoculated after barely more than a week of eligibility.

With each younger age group, the percent vaccinated declines, reaching 50 percent for 18-to-24-year-olds. However, it jumps to 56 percent for people ages 16 to 18, perhaps because of school-based vaccinations for those teenagers, or because parents are directing them.

Over the last six weeks, fewer people have sought vaccinations, although last week there was a jump of 22 percent, which Lamont credits in part to the tweens and young teens who have gotten shots in the arm. He added that offers of free drinks for showing proof of vaccination has helped, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that inoculated people don’t have to wear masks indoors.

“Those of you who are holding out, here’s your chance to step up,” Lamont said, announcing new incentives including free meals at New Haven’s landmark Long Wharf food trucks and the Lime Rock Park auto racetrack.

Dr. Deidre Gifford, acting commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, said mass vaccination sites are starting to wind down because the state has reached such a high level of residents who have gotten their first dose. She stressed there are still many places to obtain vaccines, including pharmacies that encourage walk-in appointments, and plans are being arranged for physician offices to receive vaccine dozes for their patients.

“We will continue to make sure that there are plenty of places where people can get vaccinated even when the mass vaccination sites are closed down,” she said. “We’re not done with the pandemic,” she said. “We still have thousands of cases every day in the United States, but our case counts are coming down and that’s because in Connecticut people have been getting vaccinated.”

“When we have half of the state’s been fully vaccinated already, the requirements are going to go down, considerably and we’re scaling the infrastructure accordingly,” said Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, who spoke during the hour-long news conference from the State Capitol.

Gifford said that it’s too soon to plan for COVID booster shots, even for vulnerable populations, in the continuing pandemic, which is still infecting thousands of people each day.

“We are prepared for the fact that there may be a group or some subgroup at least of the vaccinated population that might need a booster shot, so we shouldn’t be surprised by that, but we don’t know when or for whom, exactly, yet,” she said.

Gifford noted that the CDC is still studying how to possibly plan for the upcoming school year in terms of mask-wearing and other issues. “We don’t think we’ll have vaccines for young children in time for the start of school in the fall,” she said. “What we’re seeing now is that the schools are doing a great job.”

Lamont said that cancellations of public Memorial Day commemorations and parades are up to local officials.

“Obviously it’s outside,” Lamont said. “A little spacing is not bad. I think every community can make its own call, but I’m looking forward to a few parades.”

kdixon@ctpost.com Twitter: @KenDixonCT