COVID spike leads Lamont to extend orders to February
The state reported increased COVID deaths and hospitalizations Monday, continuing a troublesome trajectory that led Gov. Ned Lamont to extend until February executive orders aimed at limiting the virus’s spread.
The number of patients hospitalized for the novel coronavirus in Connecticut climbed to 496 over the weekend, as state health officials registered 3,338 new cases of the virus since Friday.
Lamont called the 94 new hospitalizations in the state “concerning,” along with data showing the number of patients hospitalized for the virus had doubled within the past few weeks.
The news came as Pfizer announced Monday the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with a German company has a 90 percent efficacy rate.
Speaking during his 4 p.m. press conference, Lamont called the report good news, and said the results were “more effective than we had probably anticipated before.”
“We’re looking now for FDA preliminary approval,” the governor said. The process is expected to take a number of weeks, rather than the months typically needed to approve a new vaccine.
Along with hospitalizations, the death toll attributed to the disease continued to mount over the weekend, with 27 more deaths bringing the state’s cumulative total to 4,698.
The daily positivity rate stood at 3.72 percent.
The governor signed an executive order Monday extending his previous executive orders for the pandemic through Feb. 9, signaling that the pandemic is thought to be far from over.
The state also released new guidance on the winter sports season for K-12 athletes, after the governor last week announced interstate travel for winter sports tournaments would be banned.
The new rules effectively ban playing sports seen as being a high risk for transmission, including wrestling, boxing and competitive cheer.
John Burkhardt, site director for Pfizer’s Groton labs, said the report on the vaccine’s effectiveness was not withheld until after the election.
The company has been manufacturing the vaccine in parallel with its clinical trials, said Burkhardt, who joined Lamont virtually for the governor’s Monday press conference.
“That was a decision that was made very early on in the process, so that’s saving us a lot of time,” Burkhardt said.
The company could produce around five to ten million doses of the vaccine by the end of the year, if the FDA gives the treatment an emergency use authorization. Burkhardt said up to 50 million doses could be possibly be ready by the end of the year, but indicated that was unlikely.
The vaccine itself will need to be stored and transported at extremely low temperatures to prevent the mRNA — the active ingredient that triggers the body’s immune response — from degrading, Burkhardt said.
Once the vaccine is approved, Lamont’s vaccine advisory committee will be in charge of recommending how the doses are prioritized, according to Dr. Reginald Eadie, one of the co-chairs of the committee.
The first doses will most likely go to frontline healthcare workers along with elderly and those most at-risk from the virus, such as nursing home residents, Eadie said.
Earlier in the day, Lamont announced the state would be dolling out $11 million to 94 small municipalities through the state’s Small Town Economic Assistance Program grant program. It was the first time money has been given through the program since 2016.
The money is intended to aide the towns with “new construction, expansion, renovation, or replacement of existing facilities” related to the pandemic, a release said.
Asked whether the COVID-19 vaccine effort was the largest vaccination plan ever undertaken historically, both Burkhardt and Eadie said they were unsure.
The governor, however, suggested politicians have no issue speculating.
“My strong instinct is this is by far the largest vaccination effort in the history of the world,” Lamont said.