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COVID-19 test rate drops for first time this week, as hospitals report growing number of sick staff

Medical staff check in people at a drive through testing site at Veterans Memorial Stadium in New Britain on New Year’s Eve. Some residents waited over 3 hours to get a test as Omicron surges in Connecticut.
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
Medical staff check in people at a drive-thru testing site at Veterans Memorial Stadium in New Britain on New Year’s Eve. Some residents waited over three hours to get a test as the omicron variant continued surging in Connecticut.

The coronavirus daily test positivity rate has reached levels not seen since spring 2020 in Connecticut, but state data released Wednesday showed that it dropped for the first time this week, from a record 24% to just under 23%.

Still, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 continued to grow, according to figures from the state Department of Public Health. At least 1,676 patients are suffering from the illness at Connecticut hospitals, up more than 100 since the day before. That number is catching up to the state’s peak in April 2020, when nearly 2,000 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.

Now two of Connecticut's largest hospital systems say they are seeing more people out due to reasons related to the virus.

Hartford HealthCare officials reported that as of Jan. 5 just over 600 employees, or about 2% of the staff, were out because of COVID-19 infection or exposure. That’s more than the number of COVID-19 patients (425) in the system’s hospitals.

“Clearly, one of our great vulnerabilities is the number of people who are impacted who work within Hartford HealthCare,” said Jeff Flaks, president and CEO of Hartford HealthCare.

Flaks said these numbers are not cause for alarm, though, because Hartford HealthCare is constantly bringing in new employees — 400 people completed orientation this week alone.

Meanwhile, the Yale New Haven Health system — similar in size to Hartford HealthCare — says staff shortages are putting stress on its emergency departments and contributing to worker burnout. As of Jan. 4, officials said 630 employees were out.

“We’ve never seen numbers that high,” said Dr. Tom Balcezak, chief clinical officer at Yale New Haven Health.

Flaks of Hartford HealthCare said that despite staff challenges, the hospital is prepared add outdoor pods to house patients if needed. Flak said that right now, the number of patients needing serious hospitalization is much lower than during the surges that happened before widespread vaccination.

“Thirty-eight percent of our inpatients are vaccinated, but only seven patients within our hospitals have received their booster,” Flaks said.
“Within our ICUs, only 3% of the patients have been vaccinated."

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