A COVID-19 PCR home test kit. Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net).

Statewide COVID-19 activity continues to decline, a trend that state officials say makes them hopeful for the next weeks of the pandemic.

Connecticut’s daily test positivity rate dropped to 13.29% on Thursday and 13.69% on Friday, according to the Department of Public Health. That’s down from a high of 24.55% less than two weeks ago.

About 1,695 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Friday, a decrease of 38 patients from the day before.

“That’s opening up beds, and, by the way, we have a lot more nurses returning to work than having to quarantine,” Gov. Ned Lamont said during a briefing Thursday. “So, we’re also, I think, beginning to balance supply and demand. That’s incredibly positive.”

However, an additional 241 people have died from the coronavirus in the past week.

Still, Dr. Scott Gottlieb said the other improving trends make him optimistic that Connecticut is on the other side of the omicron variant surge. Gottlieb is the former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. He and his family live in Westport.

“But we’re not through this by any means quite yet,” he said. “The pressure on the health care system is going to be a lagging issue. The health care system is going to continue to accrue cases even as they have discharges.”

More at-home test kits, new testing partners at Sema4 sites

The state has distributed about 3.1 million at-home COVID-19 test kits. Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer, said priority in that distribution has shifted to K-12 schools, early childhood centers, faith-based organizations, Foodshare and other organizations that serve at-risk populations.

Geballe said about 1 million tests have been distributed to municipalities across the state.

Health experts said demand for in-person testing continues to remain high. The state is working on replacements for its contracted testing partner, Sema4, which oversees 15 of 23 state-sponsored testing sites.

The company will stop providing testing at the end of the month.

“Each of those sites has been paired with a new testing partner who is going to be ready to step in and take that over, and we don’t expect any disruptions,” Geballe said.

More than one company will replace Sema4 – Geballe declined to provide names of the new testing partners until contracts are finalized.

A new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Some public health experts say the waning of the latest surge in the pandemic is promising for the future. Gottlieb said by next month, there could be a clearer picture of what, or when, the end to the pandemic might look like.

“Now there seems to be more of a consensus building that this omicron wave may well be the last major wave of infection, and this may become the dominant lineage as we go forward,” he said, “and we’re going to be heading into more of an endemic picture as we get later into this year, but that’s not a forgone conclusion at this point.”

DPH Commissioner Dr. Manisha Juthani shared that cautious optimism that the virus that causes COVID-19 will eventually become endemic, or part of the regular seasonal circulation of respiratory diseases.

“I think what people have to remember about that is, regardless, we are learning to live with COVID,” she said. “We have so many tools with us now, and I do suspect we will see surges every wintertime and that we have to be prepared for that.”

However, nothing is certain, Juthani said, as the virus and its variants have had surprising moments over the last 21 months.

“I am hopeful that this summer is going to look better, that we will get a little bit of a reprieve. That is my hope,” she said. “Last summer, the delta variant came and sort of interrupted that hope.”