A health care worker prepares to insert a nasal swab to test Patrice Evans, of Hartford, for COVID-19 at Hartford HealthCare’s mobile testing site at Phillips Health Care in Hartford’s North End Tuesday. Testing was free and available all day to pre-registered patients as well as walk-ins during the day-long event. Hartford HealthCare’s mobile testing aims to reach underserved communities in Hartford. Evans, who has asthma, could not get her doctor to give her a test, so she was happy when she heard about the mobile testing. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org
Cumulative number of COVID-19 cases by town. Map does not include 136 cases pending address validation. Department of Public Health

The state recorded its highest single-day COVID-19 rate in four months on Monday, with nearly 2.5% of all tests coming back positive, said Gov. Ned Lamont during his Tuesday briefing.

And while the infection rate for the past week stood Tuesday at 1.5% — also above the sub-1% rate Connecticut enjoyed for much of the summer — the governor insisted the state still has the pandemic largely under control.

The administration reported 320 of the 13,398 tests completed Monday were positive, an infection rate of 2.4%. One more resident died from the coronavirus, making 4,533 fatalities since the pandemic began.

Another 17 people were hospitalized Monday with COVID-19, raising the statewide total to 172 — also a high mark since June.

“Keep a little perspective,” Lamont said during a televised, late afternoon briefing. While a one-day rate of 2.4% is concerning, he added, it’s something “you focus on, but you don’t dwell on.”

Single-day rate spikes, moving up or down, can be anomalies, the governor said, noting that last week Connecticut enjoyed one single-day rate as low as 0.7%.

Connecticut’s weekly average infection rate — a much more important COVID-19 metric for many health care experts — is still one of the lowest in the nation, he said, while other key benchmarks also remain favorable.

Department of Public Health

Among Connecticut residents hospitalized with the coronavirus in October, 20% went into intensive care, 17.5% needed to be placed on ventilators, and 6.6% died. Those October numbers not only are more favorable than their counterparts in April and May, when the virus was tearing through the state, but have improved even since August.

Just two months ago, according to the administration, 24% of those hospitalized went into intensive care, 22.3 % were placed on ventilators and 8.1% died.

Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, said just 2% of Connecticut’s hospital beds currently are being used by COVID patients. And the governor added that hospitals overall are only half full, leaving significant capacity should the pandemic worsen again.

Dr. Albert Ko, professor of Epidemiology and Medicine at the Yale School of Public Health and a regular advisor to the Lamont administration during the pandemic, said the improvement is due largely to most Connecticut residents accepting the hygiene, social distancing and other precautions needed to mitigate community spread.

“It got imprinted on our behavior” over the past spring and summer, Ko said. “People are much more careful about their social contact.”

Seniors represented a disproportionate share of the coronavirus cases early in the pandemic, when testing was limited. But the state and its private partners routinely now administer between 10,000 and 15,000 tests per day.

Ko said that means more children and young adults with the virus — who are less likely than seniors to have serious cases — now are being identified. And the expanded testing also means infected patients of all age groups likely are being discovered and treated earlier.

Still, both Ko and Lamont acknowledged some limited outbreaks were anticipated this fall due to multiple factors. Many communities reopened schools to in-person learning and the colder weather marks the start of the flu season.

Lamont also ordered a third easing of restrictions on business activities that was effective last week.

Connecticut has seen recent coronavirus outbreaks in the Norwich and New London areas in the southeast corner. Ko said there could be additional upticks in various regions this winter, but “I expect them to be more brushfires than they are going to be wildfires.”

The governor again said he would consider tightening restrictions if weekly infection rates approached 5%, and were part of a larger trend of aggressive COVID-19 spread.

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Keith M. PhaneufState Budget Reporter

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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