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Wallingford health dept. seeks to expand staff as work combating COVID-19 continues

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WALLINGFORD — With rising COVID-19 positivity rates and hospitalizations statewide, the local health department is preparing to expand its staff using grant funding.

The Health Department, led by Director Stephen Civitelli, recently received the second payment from a CDC Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity Cooperative Agreement grant of roughly $177,000.

The Town Council accepted the payment of $107,940 on Nov. 23.

The department has been using the funds to help with vaccination efforts and contact tracing.

“We wanted to hire a full time contact tracer (and) another full time public health nurse,” Civitelli said Wednesday, “recognizing that moving forward, I think we're going to be a big part of the vaccination efforts in the community, seeing how the boosters have gone.”

He added that he anticipates contact tracing is something department staff are going to be conducting for a substantial period of time, and a contact tracer would take some of the burden off existing staff.

The contact tracer position would be funded for 15 months.

The department also needs to fill its office manager position. Former office manager Sandy Coker took an executive secretary position at the town Water Division in October, after six years in the Health Department.

Civitelli said that he recently spoke to Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. about using some of the town’s American Rescue Plan Act award to reconfigure the office and build some workstations to make it more efficient.

He said that he and Dickinson discussed the office reconfiguration before the ARPA funding — $13 million total — was awarded.

Infections rise

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have increased statewide, and Wallingford is following that trend.

In the last four weeks, Wallingford’s case counts rose about 25 percent to 30 percent on a weekly basis, Civitelli said.

“We were averaging maybe 15 to 20 cases,” he said. “We went up to 40, roughly, a week and now we're starting to see a little bit more than that.”

The Health Department and Hartford Healthcare ran a series of weekly COVID-19 vaccine walk-in clinics, which began Nov. 3 and concluded Wednesday.

In Wallingford, 78.02 percent of residents have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of Nov. 24, according to the state Department of Public Health. Civitelli predicts the number will reach 80 percent by the end of the month.

That’s an increase of 13.23 percent from six months ago. By May 26, 64.79 percent of Wallingford residents had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to state data.

The CDC changed its recommendations on Nov. 19 for who should get a booster to everyone over age 18.

As of Nov. 24, 21.3 percent of children ages 5-11 and 75.9 percent of children ages 12-17 had received the COVID-19 vaccine.

For adult residents 18 to 24 years old, 81.7 percent had been vaccinated. Civitelli said vaccine mandates at colleges helped raise this number.

Among other age groups of vaccinated adults, 80.3 percent of residents ages 25-44 are vaccinated,  79.1 percent of residents ages 45-64 years old are vaccinated and 100 percent of residents ages 65 and older are vaccinated.

“Obviously, that could be a statistical anomaly,” Civitelli said about the senior citizen age group reaching 100 percent, “but the point is well taken. We're saturated in that age bracket.”

The Health Department is continuing its mobile vaccine clinics to homebound residents.

Civitelli said staff completed 12 home visits Tuesday.

“Logistically, it's a lot of work,” he said. “You go to each home, packing, unpacking, going through the process, waiting with the person. There's really only so many you can do any given day. But that has been something that we've done consistently through the summer. When some of the larger clinics subsided, we still were doing home rounds, and now that the boosters have been approved, there's more people that want that.”

LTakores@record-journal.com203-317-2212Twitter: @LCTakores


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