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Omicron is expected to be the dominant COVID variant in New York, Connecticut by the New Year

Courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

New York Governor Kathy Hochul has doubled down on a new mask mandate for businesses or venues that don’t have a vaccination policy. Meanwhile, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont has said he will not impose any new mandates.

Since Monday, New Yorkers must wear masks when entering these sites, but several counties and business owners have said they won’t enforce the mandate. Hochul said she is not going to use state inspectors to enforce the mandate.

“They start seeing their hospitals taxed even further, and they get anxious — they may change their minds,” Hochul said.

Connecticut Republicans want the state to hold hearings over the development of a vaccine passport, similar to New York’s Excelsior pass. Lamont said last week that Connecticut residents will soon be able to show their vaccination status using a cellphone app.

Lamont said again this week that he doesn’t plan to impose any new COVID-19 mandates, but he said the app will give restaurants and stores the tools they need to determine what restrictions to put in place, if any.

“If you want people going back to the restaurants, they've got to feel safe,” Lamont said. “One way to make them feel safe is when you go into a restaurant and sit down, probably the person next to you, you feel confident that they have been vaccinated.”

This week in coronavirus news

Connecticut’s state seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate is approaching 5%. The state hit a grim milestone this week when it hit 9,000 deaths due to coronavirus. Long Island hit 10,000 coronavirus deaths earlier this month. The island’s seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate exceeded 7% this week for the first time since January.

The latest data shows the Delta variant is still the most predominant coronavirus infection in the state. But Yale research shows Omicron is expected to be the dominant coronavirus variant within weeks.

Connecticut health officials have detected 40 cases of the contagious Omicron variant. Last week, the entire country did not exceed that number.

Long Island has detected at least a dozen new cases of the Omicron variant with at least 14 cases in Suffolk County and six in Nassau County. State health officials said Omicron is expected to be the dominant coronavirus variant after the New Year.

Hospitalizations are the metric to watch

Over 700 Connecticut residents are hospitalized with COVID-19 for the first time since January.

State Public Health Commissioner Dr. Manisha Juthani said the hospitalization rate and staffing shortages will determine the state’s response to COVID-19. She said they are monitoring hospitals across the state that are now overwhelmed by both COVID-19 patients and residents who have put their healthcare on-hold since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We have issues related to variants that are going to come and go and vaccination status of people,” Juthani said. “We have issues related to mental health in our communities, and people needing to be in the hospital for those issues. And then we have medical and surgical problems that are coming to a head for many people, because they were sitting on the sidelines afraid of this virus.

In New York, Hochul said the state’s hospitalization rate has increased 70% since Thanksgiving due a spike in infections of the Delta variant. She said it was the trigger that made her reinstate the statewide indoor mask mandate that went into effect Monday. Connecticut has not yet hit or exceeded that threshold.

The latest CDC data shows Connecticut hospitals have gained an average of almost 100 COVID-19 patients in the last week. Seniors are being admitted to the hospital more than any other age group.

Hartford, New Haven and Fairfield counties are the most stressed.

Over the weekend, Yale-New Haven Hospital said it would spend $1 million to temporarily expand its emergency room due to the anticipated surge in COVID-19 cases after the holidays. The temporary building will house 35 patient beds. It will be in use for six months.

COVID surges through Fairfield County schools

The number of children being sent to Connecticut hospitals with COVID-19 continues to remain low despite a surge of cases among students across the state. State data shows the number of student cases has increased six-fold since the beginning of the school year with over 1,800 infections. Most are unvaccinated.

Fairfield Health Director Sands Cleary said it’s been a challenge for the town to keep up.

“Especially our contact tracers and our school nurses are feeling the impact of this surge more than most,” Cleary said. “It is a very challenging time and we are trying to support them as best we can.”

Officials want children 5 years old and above to get vaccinated and those 16 and over to receive the booster shot in order to reduce the severity of the virus. Juthani, the state health commissioner, said the state has almost a 30% vaccination rate in 5- to 11-year-olds.

“We knew at the beginning of all of this, that 30% of parents were going to go out immediately and get their kids vaccinated, and the other 30%, we're going to see how their friends did and probably get vaccinated after that,” she said.

Those students under 10 are hit the hardest, Cleary said.

“So that affects our schools significantly, the elementary schools, especially. But we are seeing cases amongst school age children and amongst the staff in schools,” he said. “So, the schools are impacted.”

Students who are exposed to the virus and test negative for COVID-19 can remain in school.

Top court shuts down religious, unvaccinated nurses

The Supreme Court declined to stop a state mandate for New York healthcare workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. A federal lawsuit was filed over the summer after hundreds of unvaccinated hospital workers in the state were fired.

Several nurses from Long Island involved in the lawsuit said they should be allowed to get a religious exemption from the vaccine. The state policy does not allow for such an excuse.

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.
John is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.