Kimberly Hall North is a Genesis HealthCare skilled nursing and rehabilitation center in Windsor, June 18, 2020. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org
Frank Fontana and his daughter, Liz Marciano, (right) visit with their wife and mother, Sharon Fontana, at Kimberly Hall North in Windsor to surprise her for the Fontana’s 60th wedding anniversary on June 18. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org

The state has hired Mathematica, a policy research firm with headquarters in Princeton, N.J., to conduct a sweeping investigation of the response to COVID-19 in Connecticut’s nursing homes.

The company will review the actions of nursing home operators and employees, industry executives and state officials during the pandemic. The state has asked Mathematica to examine the availability of testing materials and protective equipment, staffing challenges, communication and coordination, certification and regulatory framework, data availability and the ability to respond to outbreaks, among other issues.

For its work, the group will be paid about $450,000, state officials said Tuesday.

“The tragedies that occurred deserve a thorough examination and we have an obligation to those who live in those facilities, their families, and the incredible professionals who care for residents to provide answers as to what could have been done differently to mitigate the spread of the virus,” Gov. Ned Lamont said in a statement. “We must learn everything we can from our experience over the last few months so we can apply that knowledge to implement best practices in our long-term care facilities as we prepare for a possible second wave of the virus.”

Mathematica will review data – including confirmed cases and deaths by age, race and ethnicity – and conduct interviews. The interviews are expected to include officials with the state Department of Public Health and Department of Social Services, lawmakers, long-term care experts and staff, families with loved ones in nursing homes, and residents of those facilities.

An interim report is due Aug. 15; the final version, with recommendations to state leaders and legislators, is due Sept. 30.

Lamont has said he set the September deadline to prepare for a possible second wave of COVID-19 this fall.

“Timeliness is a critical factor when it comes to this review, and we know that Mathematica will provide a thorough, detailed, and actionable report,” he said Tuesday.

In Connecticut, deaths among nursing home residents represent 64 percent of the state’s overall fatalities from COVID-19.

By June 30, the most recent data available, more than 8,800 nursing home residents here had been sickened by coronavirus, and 2,745 had died.

At least 3,400 staff at those facilities have been infected, and at least 18 have died, according to federal data and interviews with nursing home executives. Advocates say the number of employees sickened is likely much higher, as many didn’t receive a test and may not have been counted.

Gov. Ned Lamont speaks at Bradley International Airport about new quarantine procedures for travelers coming to Connecticut from some states with high infection rates. Tyler Russell | CT Public Radio

Hospitalizations up, but no new deaths

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Connecticut edged upward Tuesday, but the 57 new infections represented just under one percent of all tests — and for the first time in months the state did not report a fatality attributed to the novel coronavirus.

“That’s really thanks to each and every one of you,” Lamont said at a public event in New Haven. “You are wearing the mask. You take the protocols seriously and it makes a difference.”

The net gain of 14 hospitalizations for COVID-19 reflects the impact of fewer discharges from a very small population of coronavirus patients, not an increase in the rate of new admissions, Lamont said. Even with the increase, there were only 83 patients hospitalized with the disease.

“I’m paid to worry. And I would worry if I saw our admissions in our hospitals going up,” Lamont said. The state’s growth rate of COVID-19 infections now is consistently among the lowest of any state in the U.S.

Between 20 and 30 patients are hospitalized every day for COVID-19, with typically no net increase due to a larger number of discharges.

“That’s been consistent for the past few weeks,” Lamont said.

The state’s growth rate of coronavirus infections now is consistently among the lowest of any state in the U.S. There were 57 positive results among the 5,745 tests returned Tuesday.

Connecticut has lost 4,338 residents to COVID-19, the third-highest number of fatalities on a per-capita basis behind New Jersey and New York and just ahead of Massachusetts.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have posted travel advisories discouraging visitors from states with a new daily positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents or with a 10% or higher positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average.

Lamont on Tuesday added three more states to the list of locations meeting that criteria: Delaware, Kansas and Oklahoma. States already on the list were: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

Connecticut is asking visitors from those states to self-quarantine for 14 days, an impracticality for tourists. Lamont has conceded that the message to tourists in those states can be summarized as: Don’t come here.

Connecticut has been advertising on social media in the hardest hit states, and airlines are making public-service announcements on Connecticut-bound flights about the state’s requirement to wear masks and self-quarantine.

Jenna is CT Mirror’s Health Reporter, focusing on health access, affordability, quality, equity and disparities, social determinants of health, health system planning, infrastructure, processes, information systems, and other health policy. Before joining CT Mirror Jenna was a reporter at The Hartford Courant for 10 years, where she consistently won statewide and regional awards. Jenna has a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Quinnipiac University and a Bachelor or Arts degree in Journalism from Grand Valley State University.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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