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Social behaviors, delta ‘demon’ driving new COVID-19 cases, health experts say

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MERIDEN — Health officials blamed “COVID fatigue,” the high transmissibility of the delta variant, holiday gatherings, and the unvaccinated for the spike in COVID-19 infections locally and across the U.S. 

“Delta is the demon we’re dealing with at this point,” said Dr. Ulysses Wu, chief epidemiologist for Hartford HealthCare. “Vaccinations and boosters and masking is the way out of this pandemic. The way to look at coronavirus is it’s a social disease. It is transmitted through the respiratory route. We know nobody wants to hear this anymore but we need to try to figure out how to modify our social behaviors.”

As health care officials await more information on the omicron variant, they discussed increased case numbers and hospitalizations, new treatments and booster shots with the media Thursday.

According to Dr. Ajay Kumar, executive vice president and chief clinical officer for Hartford HealthCare, the network had 206 COVID-19 infected patients in its seven hospitals. The state Department of Public Health reported 576 patients statewide. MidState Medical Center reported 18 patients, and the Hospital of Central Connecticut had 27 patients. Hartford HealthCare is the parent company of MidState Medical Center and the Hospital of Central Connecticut.  

The infection rate in the state is close to what it was in November 2020. About 70 to 75 percent of the hospitalized patients are unvaccinated with 25 to 30 percent breakthrough cases. A majority are elderly or have underlying conditions. 

The state reported 2,679 new cases Thursday afternoon or a 6.48 percent positivity rate, up from 5 percent Wednesday but lower than 8.3 percent reported earlier this week. There were 37 new deaths since last Thursday. 

Meriden’s case numbers nearly doubled from 124 last week to 222 positive cases this week. Its rate per 100,000 people went from 25.4 to 41.6. Wallingford went from 95 cases last week to 106 cases, and infections per 100,000 people went from  28.4 to 32.4. Cheshire’s cases more than doubled from 53 cases to 116, and its case number per 100,000 rose from 27.6 to 41.7. Southington’s numbers nearly doubled from 85 cases to 161 and its case rate per 100,000 rose from 22 to 40.1.

“From our contact tracing efforts, we are still seeing a lot of cases resulting from family gatherings over the Thanksgiving holiday,” Meriden Director of Health and Human Services Lea Crown said in an email. “We are also seeing many unvaccinated contract COVID-19.”

About 64.9% of Meriden’s eligible residents are fully vaccinated, a 0.27 percent increase since last week. About 71.3 percent of Meriden’s eligible residents have initiated vaccination, up 1.53 percent since last week.

Boosters advised

The health department held its first booster clinic at the senior center on Tuesday and is fully booked for its second clinic on Dec. 14. Other clinics are scheduled for Dec. 22, and Dec. 28. More are planned in January, Crown said. 

For more information and to pre-register, which is required, go to www.meridenct.gov/covid-19-information/covid-19-pop-up-clinics/.

The discovery of the omicron variant, the recommendations to get a third shot, the uptick in infections and the holidays have sparked more interest in getting booster shots, health officials said.  

Preliminary data on the omicron variant is promising. Early reports indicate high transmissibility, but reduced severity. However, hospital experts cautioned that studies in South Africa were on a younger population, which tends not to get as severe symptoms as middle aged and elderly patients. 

“While we don’t know everything about omicron, it makes it more compelling to get a booster now,” said Eric Arlia, Hartford HealthCare’s pharmacy director. “Many sites have appointments over the next 10 days. Those who get a booster in the next few days will have full coverage for Christmas.”

Back to basics

Meriden Mayor Kevin Scarpati said despite the “COVID fatigue” it’s time to get back to the basics of nearly two years ago. People need to continue to get tested. The city has opened up saliva-test clinics but can do more, he said. The medical community can also do more to ensure people don’t have to wait three to four days for a test result. The interruption in worker pay and productivity as well as on children’s learning is unacceptable, Scarpati said.  

“It’s time to get back to the basics but I think we need enhancements,” Scarpati said. “People need to get results back in a timely fashion. I know people are asking ‘when are we going to get back to normal?’ But we can’t let our guard down.”

In addition to vaccination clinics for all age groups, the city continues to encourage mask-wearing indoors. Scarpati would like to see COVID relief pay for workers forced to quarantine. American Rescue Plan Act funds could help with that as well as assisting small business owners who were negatively impacted by COVID and providing aid to new startups. Funds should also be set aside to help the health department implement its programs and hire staff, he said. 

Hartford Healthcare provides boosters (by appointment) on Tuesdays at MidState and Thursdays at 61 Pomeroy Avenue. People eligible for a booster can search for an appointment or pop-up clinic via the state vaccine portal: https://portal.ct.gov/Vaccine-Portal?language=en_US. CVS and Walgreens also have booster vaccine appointments.

mgodin@record-journal.com203-317-2255Twitter: @Cconnbiz

"The way to look at coronavirus is it’s a social disease...We know nobody wants to hear this anymore but we need to try to figure out how to modify our social behaviors."

-Dr. Ulysses Wu
"Many sites have appointments over the next 10 days. Those who get a booster in the next few days will have full coverage for Christmas."

-Eric Arlia

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