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Connecticut's immunocompromised are left vulnerable as infections rise

Gov. Ned Lamont, left, talks with Jeanne Peters, 95, during a visit to The Reservoir nursing home after she was given the first COVID-19 vaccination, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in West Hartford, Conn.
Stephen Dunn
Associated Press
Gov. Ned Lamont, left, talks with Jeanne Peters, 95, during a visit to The Reservoir nursing home after she was given the first COVID-19 vaccination, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in West Hartford, Conn.

Despite increased positivity rates — the state reported over the weekend its highest seven-day positivity rate since February, about 14%, with about over 300 coronavirus patients in hospitals across the state — Connecticut residents are beginning to enjoy many of the “pre-pandemic” activities previously on hold.

However, some immunocompromised people and their families are retreating further into isolation.

WSHU’s J.D. Allen spoke with CT Mirror’s Jenna Carlesso to discuss her article written with investigative researcher Katy Golvala, “As COVID hangs on, the ‘new normal’ is leaving many behind,” as part of the collaborative podcast Long Story Short.

WSHU: Coronavirus has taken on many faces, the most recent variant of the virus is Omicron, which surged in January. Can you tell us about its contagious subvariants the state and the federal government are monitoring?

JC: Yes, there are a couple of subvariants of Omicron that have been gaining traction in Connecticut and elsewhere. One of them, BA2.12.1 could become the dominant form of COVID-19 in the United States in the coming weeks.

WSHU: Much of Connecticut is classified as a red zone, which means 100 out of every 100,000 people in each county are infected, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends the state mask up indoors in all counties except for Fairfield and New London. But that could change as cases increase and hospital beds fill. What precautions are in place today in the state?

JC: Right now today, there is no longer a mask mandate required either statewide in public buildings or in the schools. The state is recommending in those high zones that you mentioned that people wear masks when indoors.

WSHU: Yeah. WSHU spoke with State Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani last week about the specific data they're collecting to get a clearer picture of how the virus is spreading.

Manisha Juthani: Test positivity currently is not the same thing as it once was. Everybody sees that. And the major thing that it's offering us right now is a trajectory. It's showing us that we're continuing to go up or we're starting to come down. The actual number means much less. What we also know is that a lot of people are doing self test kits, and we are not asking for people to report self test kits. What we're really concerned about at this point is the impact on the healthcare system.

WSHU: Impact on the health care system, Connecticut hospitals are at about 75% bed capacity with 4% of the beds occupied by coronavirus patients, according to hospital data that's reported to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Jenna, what tools does the state and its health system have to keep infections and hospitalizations low?

JC: So the tools that state officials are recommending the public use are mask wearing but again, that's a recommendation and not a mandate. If you do come down with a case of COVID, there are tests to treat facilities where you could go in, get a test. And if you qualify for an antiviral, like a Paxlovid, you may get access to that. Social distancing is something that was used but again, there's a lot of emphasis currently on personal responsibility right now, as opposed to a sort of mandate or restrictions that are in place.

WSHU: Not everybody with COVID becomes hospitalized, only the most vulnerable. A lot of your reporting this week focused on those who are calculating the risk each day of trying to prevent contracting the virus or protecting their families from coming in contact.

JC: Yes, so as a lot of society is resuming pre-pandemic activities, graduations, sporting events, all kinds of indoor as well as outdoor stuff. There are folks who are feeling left behind. It may be somebody who is themselves immune-compromised, perhaps they're caring for a loved one, or it's their job to care for somebody who is immunosuppressed, or they live with somebody who is immunosuppressed. Also elderly folks who are more at higher risk may not be able to move ahead. And in fact, many are not able to move ahead as everybody else is because, for them, getting COVID is not sort of a you know, everything will be OK if I get it. It has higher consequences for them.

WSHU: This past week, your reporting highlighted the story of a mother who's also a caretaker of her adult son. Can you tell me a little bit about their story?

JC: Yeah. Pam Hunt, who lives in Norwich, is caring for her 25-year-old son, Yehoshua. He has a condition known as Trisomy 13, also known as Patau syndrome, which is a genetic disorder. It can cause seizures, decreased muscle tone, and skeletal abnormalities. He has cognitive disabilities, he relies on the use of a wheelchair. He's deaf blind. And since we're in this "new normal," they've had to be more careful than ever. That means, you know, if somebody comes by the house, she has to talk to them from their car. They're not doing activities, like the movies or other things where they may be exposed to folks who are unmasked. Even in a park, if it gets crowded and there are too many unmasked people she's described, you know, having to move away or avoid or perhaps go back home. And the world has gotten a lot smaller for folks, for many folks who have these immune conditions.

WSHU: You know, a moment ago, we referred to the term post-pandemic era and the new normal. Is the pandemic really behind us or for a parent and their child, like these folks?

JC: That is, you know, a line we're hearing from state and federal officials. You'll hear post-pandemic, you'll hear a new normal, even Dr. Anthony Fauci mentioned recently that the U.S. was out of the pandemic phase before sort of walking that back to acute stage of the pandemic phase. We are right now still in Connecticut, as you mentioned, almost 14% positivity rate, our hospitalizations, which you know, were under 100, just a few months ago, are back up over 300 at this time, and COVID is spreading. It's on the rise right now. 

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.
Molly is a reporter covering Fairfield County. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.