(AP) – The first two known cases of a new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus have been detected in Connecticut, the governor said Thursday.
The two people, described as between ages 15 and 25, live in New Haven County and each had traveled recently outside the state, one to Ireland and one to New York state. Genetic sequencing showed the cases are unrelated, the governor’s office said. It’s believed there are likely more cases in the state.
“If you’re infected here in Connecticut, good chance you’re part of that highly infectious strain,” Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont said. “What does that mean to us? It just means be even more careful.”
State officials have presumed the strain of the virus was already in Connecticut given its speed and identification in several states, including neighboring New York. The number of confirmed and probable cases in the state grew by more than 3,300 since Wednesday.
The more contagious variant of the virus was first identified in the United Kingdom. A Connecticut state laboratory upgraded its testing efforts last week to look for the variant, the governor’s office said.
Dr. Deidre Gifford, the state’s acting Department of Public Health Commissioner said evidence of the variant won’t necessarily change the state’s vaccine distribution plan itself “but it does emphasize the need for speed.”
The governor’s vaccine allocation subcommittee is expected next week to finish its recommendations to Lamont as to who should be vaccinated in the next two phases of the state’s distribution plan. The group has already agreed with federal recommendations to vaccinate people 75 years and older and certain essential workers, as well as include residents of certain congregate settings.
There’s been discussion about whether to include others in Phase 1B, such as people 65 years and older and younger people with certain preexisting conditions. But Gifford noted that including more people in the next phase could have consequences.
“I think the sentiment expressed was that they didn’t want to expand so large that it would make it difficult for those very high risk individuals to get access early on in the 1B process,” she said.
There are also plans next week to rollout a platforms for people to make reservations for shots.
As of Thursday, 99,929 first doses of the vaccine have been administered in Connecticut and 1,805 second doses. While Lamont said he’s pleased with the distribution so far, noting Connecticut ranks sixth in the nation in terms of the percentage of the population vaccinated, he said the state could accommodate more doses, given the platform it has created and the fact vaccines are being rolled out to retail outlets now.
Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, said the state was unable to fulfill all the requests it received this week from health care providers because “we’re just not getting enough into the state right now.” Neighboring Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has said her state’s efforts have been hampered by a lack of supply.
“We have people asking for more than we’re able to provide because of the supply coming in,” Geballe said. “So we could get more, we could go faster.”
As of Thursday, the number of COVID-associated deaths in the state increased by 57 since Wednesday, to a total of 6,287.
In other developments related to the coronavirus:
The ability to install cameras in rooms, a statewide visitation policy and full-time infection control specialists are among recommendations by members of a committee considering pandemic-inspired changes at Connecticut nursing homes.
Members are also suggesting that Lamont sign an executive order allowing residents of long-term care facilities to designate an “essential caregiver” for in-person visits.
“There were a lot of people that wasted away because of their lack of being able to see family,” said state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who co-chairs a subcommittee of the Nursing Home and Assisted Living Oversight Working Group that is focusing on improvements to socialization, visitation and caregiver engagement. “I think that we need to start recognizing there is a component that we need to pay attention to in people’s social and emotional well-being.”
Four subcommittees are presenting their recommendations this week and next to the full panel, which will then forward them to the appropriate committees in the General Assembly addressing issues raised during the pandemic.
As of Tuesday, more than 3,600 nursing home residents in Connecticut had died of COVID 19-related causes, about 57% of the state’s total such deaths.
The subcommittee focusing on the response by nursing homes to the outbreak and the continued surveillance of the coronavirus is recommending the qualifications for the infection control specialists be expanded. Also, the group said, these should be full-time positions with rotating hours, so different shifts can be monitored.
They also want information about residents’ rights and infection control procedures to be posted in both English and Spanish.
“We want people who come into the building to know what they should be seeing and we want the residents to know what they should be seeing and what to expect when it comes to infection prevention in the facility,” said Sen. Mary Abrams, D-Meriden, a subcommittee co-chair who also is co-leader of the legislature’s Public Health Committee.
The subcommittee is also recommending that all staff at assisted living facilities be trained in infection prevention procedures; that nursing homes have at least one staff member certified to start an IV; that nursing homes have a three-supply of personal protective equipment in various sizes for staff; quarterly fittings of N-95 masks for staff instead of annual; and a clearly defined rule that protective equipment can be reused only in a crisis.