While Connecticut’s COVID-19 positivity rate has stayed steady, health experts are expecting a winter surge of infections as unprotected, maskless people move indoors.
“At this point vaccination hesitancy is at an all time high,” said Dr. Ulysses Wu, head of infectious diseases at Hartford HealthCare. “There are no masking mandates. There are a lot of sniffles and common colds because nobody is masking.”
The pediatric population has seen a critical increase in upper respiratory infections leading to emergency measures at state children’s hospitals.
Health experts blame eliminating mask mandates, low vaccination rates against influenza and COVID and lower immunity brought on by the two-year pandemic lockdown.
“People should be masking, vaccinatng, and staying out of work or school when they are sick,” Wu said. “Those three variables should hold true regardless of the variant.”
Connecticut reported 3,651 new cases of coronavirus in the week ending Sunday, Oct. 16, down 9.2% from the previous week. The previous week saw 4,023 new cases of the virus. According to the state Department of Public Health as of last week fewer than 300,000 Connecticut residents had received a bivalent booster shot, out of more than 2.7 million who are eligible.
The updated mRNA boosters target both the original coronavirus and the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, now considered the dominant strain in the U.S.
“People need to understand that variants like Omicron and BA.5 are a natural part of the progression of the virus, said Nathan Grubaugh, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health, for an article in Yale Medicine. New variants aren’t surprising. “Delta was never going to be the last variant—and Omicron is not going to be the last one. As long as there is a COVID-19 outbreak somewhere in the world, there is going to be something new that emerges.”
Dr. Manisha Juthani, state Department of Public Health Commissioner, notes that the new boosters provide protection against the BQ.1, BQ1.1 and BF.7 variants since they are all sublineages of BA.5. and are genetically very similar.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the DPH recommend that everyone 5 years and older get a booster shot at least 5 months after completing a primary 2-shot Pfizer series (for those 5 and older) or Moderna vaccination series —for those 18 and older, or at least 2 months after receiving a one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccination — for those 18 and older.
“I consider all variants scary and dangerous,” Wu said. “The precautions we take with a variant we should take with new variants. The main purpose of the vaccine is to prevent illness and keep people at the hospital, keep you from dying. John might have caught COVID and did fine. But John may have passed it on to people who didn’t do fine.”