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COVID's winter surge strains hospitals and disrupts government in Connecticut and Long Island

Patient Susan Maxwell Trumble is inoculated with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at South Shore University Hospital, Wednesday, March 3, 2021 in Bay Shore, N.Y.
Mark Lennihan
Associated Press

Over 1,800 Connecticut residents are hospitalized with COVID-19, which is more than 23% of the state's hospital bed capacity. The state is averaging about 100 new coronavirus patients per day.

That’s important as the state considers new guidelines to stem the spread of the virus. Several Connecticut towns and cities have renewed calls for Governor Lamont to issue a statewide mask mandate. But Lamont wants to leave the decision of mandates to local leaders.

However, Lamont said Connecticut will mandate booster shots for workers in nursing homes and assisted living facilities by Feb. 11. Connecticut hospitals will also mandate booster shots for all healthcare workers.

In New York, Governor Kathy Hochul will mandate New York health care workers to get booster shots, starting Tuesday.

Hospital officials and health care workers said coronavirus infections have strained Connecticut hospitals. However, fewer people are requiring intensive care and ventilators, compared with earlier in the pandemic.

They said emergency rooms are filled with people who have only mild symptoms and are having trouble finding tests elsewhere.

The COVID-19 daily positivity rate in Connecticut has increased to over 24%, the highest infection rate ever recorded in the state.

On Long Island, Suffolk County also hit a new record with 7,000 new daily coronavirus cases. The island has the highest positivity rate in the state with a seven-day average of 26%. However, Long Island hospitals have so far avoided having to shut down elective procedures due to reduced bed capacity and staffing shortages.

The number of cases ballooned after the holidays and once at-home COVID-19 test kits became available.

Distributing COVID-19 tests

Since the holiday break, Connecticut has delivered over 670,000 at-home tests to municipalities and schools across the state. Bridgeport has started distributing more than 15,000 test kits and 48,000 N95 masks to residents in an effort to decrease long lines at testing sites.

The state is sending 500,000 rapid tests to schools to make sure staff and students remain safe.

New York reopened mass testing sites at SUNY campuses, including at Stony Brook University on Long Island. New York started training members of the National Guard last week to become certified EMTs to relieve health care facilities with staffing shortages. They will be deployed in February to hard-hit communities.

Suffolk County is distributing care packages to veterans, first responders, seniors and other vulnerable groups. The packages include two at-home COVID-19 test kits, N95 masks and hand sanitizer. They are also available at three drive-thru rapid community testing sites in Suffolk.

Outbreaks disrupt government

The state Capitol complex in Hartford will be shut down on Wednesdays and Fridays at least through the end of the month, even though the next legislative session is set to begin on Feb. 9. That’s because half of the 42-member State Capitol Police force has been cut by about half because of coronavirus infections, and many legislative staffers are out because of the virus.

Under a ruling by a state arbitrator, thousands of unionized Connecticut state employees can now appeal requirements that they work in the office more than one day a week.

State Representatives Antonio Felipe and Steve Stafstrom, top members of Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim’s staff and City Council President Aidee Nieves have tested positive for COVID-19.

Several eastern Connecticut towns have also shifted to virtual meetings to adjust to staffing challenges.

New mortgage help available

About $539 million is available to New Yorkers who are at risk of foreclosure or displacement due to financial hardship caused by the pandemic. They can now apply for a portion of the state's homeowner assistance fund over the phone at 1-844-77-NYHAF or online.

'Up to date' vs. 'fully vaccinated'

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that while it considers two doses of Pfizer or Moderna, or the one-shot Johnston and Johnston vaccine, to be “fully vaccinated,” it now considers anyone with a booster shot as “up to date” on vaccinations.

Businesses, schools and government agencies will likely use that terminology to monitor the vaccination status of students and employees.

Clare is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.