As CT COVID positivity rate tops 10%, health official explains why this ‘swell’ is different

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Connecticut’s COVID positivity rate surpassed 10 percent Wednesday, but that number “means something different” than earlier in the pandemic — and even a few months ago when the omicron variant caused widespread outbreaks in the state, the Department of Public Health commissioner said.

“We are going through a swell,” DPH Commissioner Manisha Juthani said in an interview Wednesday with Hearst Connecticut Media Group. “People have talked about an uptick and a spike and a surge or whatever. I kind of like ‘swell’ because it's sort of like a rolling tumble up, and we don't know where it's going to go, when it's gonna come down.”

Though the metrics are concerning, Juthani said they should be considered in context.

“The number ‘10 percent’ today means something very different than it did even in the height of omicron,” Juthani said. “At 10 percent positivity in omicron, we had many more hospitalizations when we went through the winter.”

The last time the Connecticut positivity rate hit 10 percent was in January, according to state data. The wave caused by the omicron variant was waning from its peak a month earlier, and hospitalizations were also declining. At the time, there were 1,270 COVID-related hospitalizations.

On Wednesday, the state said there had been 6,198 new cases identified over the previous week among 60,077 reported tests, a seven-day positivity rate of 10.32 percent. There were 35 more COVID hospitalizations over the past week for a total of 245.

Because hospitalizations have remained low, Juthani reiterated that statewide mandates are not expected.

“If our hospitals are able to manage then, as a state, we are not in mandate mode,” she said. “That is not where we need to be.”

Juthani also said positivity rates only tell part of the story. In April, the state stopped requiring negative rapid test results to be reported. Negative and positive PCR test results must still be reported to the state, as are positive rapid tests.

“Why is our positivity 10 percent? In part, because I think the people getting PCRs already know they're positive and want that confirmation by PCR, or had been testing negative on self-test kits, but are symptomatic and are going in and getting a PCR,” Juthani said. “So I think our positivity rate does not necessarily reflect what it did before.”

As for the future of disease transmission in Connecticut, Juthani said, “We don't know. It's anybody's guess. We just don't know where this is gonna go.”

The omicron variant caused an immediate increase in transmission and hospitalizations. But the omicron subvariant, BA.2, which is making up more than 98 percent of tested samples, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has not resulted in the same dynamic.

“I continue to be amazed by this virus,” Juthani said. “We had omicron, it did a steep up and a steep down. And now what we're getting is a swell from a subvariant. It's the same variant, it's a subvariant of omicron, and it's not doing a steep up and a steep down again.”