An empty box that held vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine sits on a table at a clinic at St. Bernard Church in Vernon Thursday, Jan. 28. A one-day vaccination clinic was set up by Priority Urgent Care of Ellington in partnership with the town of Vernon in an effort to reach out to the community to make it easier for seniors age 75 and over to get the vaccine. They dispensed 100 doses. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org

At least 98 nursing homes in Connecticut had staff COVID vaccination rates under 100% as of Oct. 3, six days after the state’s vaccination mandate deadline passed, data released Thursday by the Department of Public Health show.

The mandate threatened that nursing homes with unvaccinated staff could be fined up to $20,000 a day, but the agency has not announced penalties for any of the state’s nursing homes.

The state did not specify vaccination rates for individual nursing homes, but it said fewer than 40 nursing homes reported staff vaccination rates under 90%. The lowest reported rate verified by DPH was 77%.

But not all those with rates under 100% are necessarily non-compliant with the state’s mandate. Staff were allowed to cite religious and medical exemptions to vaccination.

Employees were supposed to be immunized or claim an exemption by Sept. 27. The state has yet to publicly release any information about employee participation at more than 600 long-term care facilities — including nursing homes, assisted living centers, residential care homes, chronic disease hospitals, intermediate care facilities and managed residential communities — that were subject to the coronavirus vaccine edict.

Matthew Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, said “a more detailed review of the facility-specific circumstances is needed to understand what’s behind the numbers.”

“A higher number of medical or religious exemptions will always mean a lower staff vaccination rate,” Barrett said. “The vaccine offers the highest level of protection, and the highest rates possible is what nursing homes strive for, but nursing homes can keep residents protected when small numbers of staff are not vaccinated with more aggressive COVID-19 testing and enhanced infection prevention and control measures.”

More than two weeks after the deadline, it is unclear whether any facilities have been issued fines.

DPH spokesperson Chris Boyle said that an update on mandate compliance will be released Friday.

Some nursing homes have approved “pockets” of religious exemptions, said Mag Morelli, president of LeadingAge Connecticut, which represents nonprofit nursing homes. She said some nursing homes were having trouble reporting their vaccination data.

About 5% of the state’s nursing homes missed the deadline for reporting their vaccination rates, sources in the nursing home industry said. As of last Wednesday — nine days after the due date —  there were still seven nursing homes that hadn’t provided vaccine data for their employees.

There haven’t been many reports of workers quitting because they refuse to get vaccinated, Morelli said.

“Overall, I’m hearing one or two [workers] have left, but not some mass exodus from any facilities.”

There also were 31 assisted living facilities that didn’t meet the deadline, and 23 still hadn’t reported last Wednesday.

DPH officials told providers during a private conference call last Wednesday that they still were investigating why the facilities had missed the mandate. Six hundred and fifty-one long-term care facilities fall under the mandate, and 231 of them didn’t report by the Sept. 27 deadline, health officials said on the call.

DPH requires that all employees — including contractors who may enter the building or others that are not nursing home staff — be vaccinated, said Athena Healthcare spokesman Tim Brown.

For example, Northbridge Health Care in Bridgeport, which doubled as a COVID relief facility, has more than 490 people who are required to be vaccinated, far higher than the number of staff that regularly work there. Brown said Northbridge is over 97% vaccinated.

“Staffing was tough before, but the vaccine mandate has just made it that much more difficult,” Brown said.

DPH’s silence so far about penalties for missing the mandate has been at odds with the way Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration reported how executive branch employees responded to the vaccination-or-test mandate.

When the deadline passed for state workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or face termination, the administration quickly disclosed how many employees in the executive branch had failed to report their status or opted for weekly testing.

It has not yet disclosed data on compliance among the state’s health care workers at Solnit Psychiatric Center, Connecticut Valley Hospital, UConn’s John Dempsey Hospital and Whiting Forensic Hospital, stating that the numbers are expected next week.

State health care workers are subject to a more restrictive vaccine mandate that also went into effect Sept. 27, which does not allow a test-out option unless a religious or medical exemption is approved.

Kasturi Pananjady

Kasturi was CT Mirror’s data reporter. She is a May 2020 graduate of the Columbia Journalism School’s master’s program in data journalism and holds a degree in comparative literature from Brown University, where she was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. Prior to joining CT Mirror, Kasturi interned for publications in India.

Dave does in-depth investigative reporting for CT Mirror. His work focuses on government accountability including financial oversight, abuse of power, corruption, safety monitoring, and compliance with law. Before joining CT Mirror Altimari spent 23 years at the Hartford Courant breaking some of the state’s biggest, most impactful investigative stories.

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.