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State health commissioner: Ahead of holidays, ‘Look at the risk level of those coming to your dinner.’

Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public Radio
Covid-19 vaccination and booster status are among the variables to consider when gathering for the holidays, according to public health officials.

As COVID-19 cases edge up in Connecticut and elsewhere, state Public Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani said residents should assess who will be gathering with them for the holidays and consider personal protections based upon the vaccination status of the group.

“If you have a fully vaccinated group of people and fully boosted group of people, I think you’re at your highest level of protection,” she said Monday. “If you have somebody who’s a little bit more vulnerable in your group … wearing a mask is not a bad idea. That’s a self-preservation measure.”

Unvaccinated people who are planning to attend gatherings with family or friends are at the highest risk of both being infected at the time of the event and of contracting the virus.

“It’s an uncomfortable decision for some people to have to weigh for themselves … What is their own risk? What is their comfort level in terms of those around them?” Juthani said. “Ultimately, you have to look at the risk level of those who are coming to your dinner.”

Lamont said vaccinated residents who gather for the holidays are “OK.”

“If you’re all vaccinated, you’re OK. [If] you know who you’re sitting next to, you’re OK,” he said.

State officials also reiterated their encouragement for residents to get a vaccine booster shot ahead of the holidays. As of Monday, 529,875 people in Connecticut had received a booster, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, representing 20.7% of the state’s fully vaccinated population.

Travelers will notice pop-up vaccine clinics in major transportation buildings like Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Union Station in New Haven and the Stamford Transportation Center, where they can get a booster shot while waiting for their flight or train, Lamont said.

“Just walk up, take advantage of the vaccine or the testing,” he said. “If you haven’t gotten that booster yet, we’re making it as easy as possible for you to do that.”

COVID-19 booster shots are now open to everyone 18 and older at least six months after their initial doses of Pfizer or Moderna. People who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine are eligible for a booster two months after their initial shot.

Connecticut’s daily positivity rate was 3.53% Monday. Hospitalizations rose by 21, reaching 268.

Since coronavirus vaccines were authorized for children 5 to 11 years old on Nov. 2, more than 56,000 kids in that age bracket have been immunized in Connecticut, officials said. Nearly 250 pharmacies, pediatrician offices and federally qualified health centers are administering the vaccine to children in that age group. To date, 417 school-based clinics have also been organized.

Nursing homes are also arranging on-site booster shot clinics for residents and staff, many of whom received their initial doses more than six months ago. The state did not have a current number for how many nursing home residents had received a booster to date.

“We are on target for 70% of long-term care facilities in the state having a booster clinic for patients and staff by Thanksgiving,” Juthani said. “The remaining are the ones that we are helping to get a booster clinic done by Dec. 15.”

“Once a nursing home has a clinic, upwards of 95% of the residents have gotten boosted,” she added.

Governor’s mandate has state employee vaccination rates inch higher

Updated numbers from the governor’s office show that 84% of state employees in executive branch agencies are vaccinated, a three-percentage-point increase from when data were last released in October.

The increase is reflective of the number of vaccinated employees rising by nearly 900, while the denominator of total people employed by executive branch agencies decreased by about 100.

About 5% of employees were non-compliant with mandate, and 108 of them are facing some form of discipline over their refusal to get vaccinated or be tested weekly.

“We continue to have another several hundred that are in a state of non-compliance but that are working to get compliant because a test result is late,” said Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer.

The state has committed to paying for weekly testing for those who are not vaccinated for the duration of the public health emergency, which currently runs through the middle of February.

Department of Correction workers continue to lag in vaccination rates and post the highest rates of testing. The agency also has the highest rate of employee non-compliance.

Long-term care facilities fined $19 million

Officials at the state Department of Public Health said they have handed out more than $19 million in fines to 101 long-term care facilities that failed to report employee vaccination information as required by an executive order.

The health department did not identify the facilities by name, but said the violators included 11 assisted living centers, 68 managed residential communities, four nursing homes, and 18 residential care homes.

The per-day violation fine is $5,000 for all long-term care facilities except for residential care homes. Those buildings are fined $500 per day for failure to report.

Lamont’s executive order calls for all long-term care facilities – including nursing homes, assisted living centers, residential care homes, chronic disease hospitals, intermediate care facilities and managed residential communities – to report the vaccine status of their staff as well any contractors that entered their buildings by Sept. 28 or face fines of up to $20,000 a day. Six hundred and forty-three facilities are subject to the order.

All employees were required to be immunized against COVID-19 unless they obtained a religious or medical exemption.

The health department issued $19,080,000 in fines to those who failed submit their information.

“The fact that facilities have failed to report their compliance … is unacceptable,” said Juthani. “With the holidays and colder weather approaching, we expect cases of COVID-19 to rise in the community, which increases the chances that COVID-19 cases will rise in long-term care settings. These vaccine mandates are in place to protect not only the patients and residents in long-term care, but to ensure the health and safety of staff.”

The heads of Connecticut’s two largest long term care provider associations – the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities and LeadingAge Connecticut – said in a joint statement that more analysis is needed to determine the extent of the non-compliance because the fines only address reporting delays, not staff vaccination rates.

“There is strong evidence that when the final numbers are tallied there will be very high levels of staff vaccine compliance among long-term care employees,” said Matthew Barrett, president and CEO of CAHCF, and Mag Morelli, head of LeadingAge Connecticut.

The state previously fined 26 facilities a combined $221,000 for reporting their vaccination numbers after the Sept. 28 deadline.

CT Mirror Reporter Mark Pazniokas contributed to this story.

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