Gov. Ned Lamont at his afternoon briefing. CT-N
Gov. Ned Lamont at his afternoon briefing Monday. CT-N

Gov. Ned Lamont returned to the State Capitol after a 14-day quarantine Monday to gently push back at the doctors seeking tighter COVID-19 restrictions, saying Connecticut is weathering the late autumn surges in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

The seven-day positivity rate peaked ten days ago at 5.8% and fell to 4.7% on Monday, the barest glimmer of a sign the state may be bending the curve of a surge that has quadrupled hospitalizations since mid-September.

“So, let’s watch the trend line, but this is hopeful,” Lamont said.

Hospitalizations and deaths, which lag drops in positivity rates, continued to rise. With another 59 deaths since Friday, the death toll from COVID-19 reached 5,020. Hospitalizations increased by 81 to 1,098. (click below to see up-to-date COVID-19 data)

The impact of Thanksgiving travel, which public health officials fear will lead to another spike, most likely will not show up in testing data until next week.

In his twice-a-week televised briefing, Lamont continued to carefully hew to a middle course of describing Connecticut as faring better than most states, while warning that only continued adherence to public-health guidelines will save the state from disaster.

He spoke on the same day neighboring Rhode Island declared a hospital emergency, jolting residents with an emergency text warning that its hospitals were at capacity due to COVID, forcing the state to open two field hospitals with a combined capacity of about 1,000 beds.

Over the weekend, a letter signed by dozens of doctors warned that the Connecticut hospital system was under far more stress than the patient levels suggest, and they called on Lamont to close all restaurants and gyms.

Josh Geballe, the governor’s chief operating officer, said the administration does not minimize the stress on health care workers after nine months of coping with the pandemic, but there was no evidence that closing restaurants and gyms would ease that stress.

The biggest source of community transmission continues to be private social gatherings, and the answer to that is adhering to the rules for limiting such gatherings to no more than eight people, state officials said.

The downward bend of the positivity rate is only over 10 days, but Lamont found it encouraging.

In Rhode Island, Gov. Gina M. Raimondo previously had announced a two-week pause in reopening, also effective Monday, that largely limits private social gatherings to within a household, up to five people, and restricts indoor dining at restaurants to one-third of capacity.

This is my state right now.

To all the people (who I don’t tag, bc they don’t deserve the notoriety) who accused me of “fear mongering” – I hope you don’t get sick, from #covid19 or anything else, because WE HAVE NOWHERE TO TREAT YOU.

— Megan Ranney MD MPH ? (@meganranney) November 30, 2020

Lamont said data gathered from Open Table, the restaurant reservation app, showed that restaurant patronage in Connecticut already has dropped dramatically since the weather turned colder and the number of cases has surged.

While there was only a 3% drop in September 2020 over September 2019, there were year-over-year drops of 18% in October and 43% in November, Lamont said. He already has rolled back indoor dining limits from 75% to 50%, with other limits on table sizes and hours of operation.

The governor said the absence of a new federal package of economic assistance did not play a role in his refusal to close restaurants and gyms, as proposed by dozens of doctors over the weekend, though he urged passage of even limited aid.

Democrats have been holding out for a massive aid package, fearing that acceptance of a limited plan would undercut efforts for further aid. Lamont, a Democrat, said he would urge compromise.

“I’d make the deal,” he said.

The governor said the latest data also finds little transmission of COVID-19 in the public schools.

Lamont said he is meeting Tuesday with some of the doctors who wrote to urge him to tighten restrictions.

“The rapid increase in admissions and severity of illness that we are seeing here in the ICU and the wards is incredibly concerning,” they wrote. “In the media, it has been widely reported that the lower mortality rates in the second wave reflect dramatic advances in care. This is far from accurate. While our understanding of COVID has certainly improved, there are very few new therapies, and the benefits are modest.”

Fifty-nine percent of the state’s 1,000 ICU beds are currently occupied, with one-third being used by COVID-19 patients, Geballe said. Overall, 71% of the state’s 8,000  hospital beds are occupied, though most hospitals have yet to restrict elective surgery, administration officials said.

Geballe said analyzing positive test numbers was difficult. There may have been a crush of asymptomatic people getting tests before Thanksgiving travel, conceivably driving down the positivity rate.

But that is likely more than offset by the cessation of regular testing of asymptomatic college students, who have emptied campuses and gone home, he said.

About 10% of the state’s COVID-19 testing was on college campuses, where ending the regular testing of asymptomatic students most likely would drive up the positivity rate — and so far, that hasn’t happened.

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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