Omicron wave could soon reach peak in CT, experts say

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Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday the state set a record with more than 300,000 PCR tests administered in the past week.

Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday the state set a record with more than 300,000 PCR tests administered in the past week.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

Despite recent COVID-19 trends that have been among the most troubling of the nearly two-year pandemic, some medical experts say this latest surge spurred by the omicron variant could begin to subside in days or weeks.

“I think we’re going to certainly see the peak in the next couple of weeks, perhaps by the end of the month,” said Dr. Albert Ko at the Yale School of Public Health.

While Connecticut’s positivity rate, which sat at 23.85 percent Tuesday, showed little downturn, Gov. Ned Lamont said it appears to have “stabilized” having now hovered between 20 and 24 percent for the past week.

But when exactly the peak will hit may be hard to tell, according to Ko, a former key adviser of Lamont’s on the pandemic. He pointed to the high positivity rate and the prevalence of at-home testing kits that often go unreported.

Those two factors hurt epidemiologists’ ability to see a clear picture in the moment, he said, because accurate measurement relies on consistent testing of a wide swath of people who are infected and who are not infected.

Ko said Connecticut appears to be coming off the “exponential phase” of the illness, when cases double every few days.

“It still increases, but you start leveling off,” he said. “We’re at the point where we don’t really know.”

Dr. Ulysses Wu, chief epidemiologist for Hartford HealthCare, offered a more optimistic timeline, suggesting the peak is days away.

“Cases should hopefully start decreasing by Jan. 15 and hospitalizations should follow by Jan. 21,” he said.

Hospitalizations edged up across the state Tuesday with a net increase of 31 patients for a total of 1,920, which is 52 patients shy of the pandemic peak of 1,972 seen on April 22, 2020.

“We're getting hopefully to the top point of the curve. And even though people remain ventilated at this point, the ventilators as compared to this time last year is much less. And so these are all good signs,” Wu said.

Lamont seemed encouraged by the latest hospitalization figures, noting it appears that the rate of new admissions was slowing.

“We’ve seen that more pronounced in New York, so that gives us a little hope,” he said.

The latest Connecticut figures come amid a crushing demand for tests across the state.

“We did more tests this week than ever before in history, more than 300,000 PCR tests,” Lamont said. The record testing coincided with a statewide effort to distribute more than 1 million at-home testing kits secured since late December.

With broad testing at record levels, Connecticut has been able to identify a significant number of COVID-19 cases. On several days in the past week, the state has set records for new daily cases reported, the height of which was on Jan. 4, when 10,604 new infections were discovered.

To meet the rampant demand, the state and its providers have been working to ramp up capacity at testing sites, which were bogged down by people trying to get results ahead of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

Major hospital networks have been working to increase testing capacity both onsite and through mobile efforts. Meanwhile, the state has been working to open more testing sites.

Hartford HealthCare, one of the largest health networks in the state, has seen record numbers of COVID-19 patients in the past week or so, but officials there have said some are incidental infections found when someone visits a hospital for an unrelated reason.

“We are seeing still an increase in COVID patients and prevalence in Connecticut,” said Dr. Ajay Kumar, Hartford HealthCare’s chief clinical officer. “We’re seeing incline at the moment, the number of hospitalizations rising.”

Omicron continues to increase its presence in Connecticut amid this latest surge of cases.

Nathan Grubaugh, a Yale School of Public Health researcher helping to lead the genomic sequencing effort, said Tuesday that 97 percent of outpatient tests at Yale New Haven Health facilities were identified as potentially omicron.

In light of the rapid spread of the omicron variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention appear to be considering new recommendations that prefer N95 and KN95 masks over other face coverings such as those made of cloth, according to a Washington Post report. The move comes amid evidence that these masks are more effective at preventing the spread of the omicron variant.

While Lamont remains committed to not instituting a broad indoor mask mandate, many of the state’s largest cities and towns have renewed these restrictions amid the sharp rise in COVID-19 infections.

Meanwhile, the state has been distributing 6 million N95 masks to municipalities for distribution to residents and school districts.

When asked about his thoughts on the significance of wearing N95 masks, Lamont expressed confidence in all face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“An N95 mask ... let’s say is 20 percent better than a cloth mask, but a cloth mask is 85 percent better than nothing at all. So it’s still incredibly valuable,” Lamont said.

Lamont also acknowledged there is no N95-quality mask for children at this time.

“We are working on that with manufacturers,” he said. “We will see what the future brings.”

Staff writers Jordan Fenster and Dan Haar contributed to this story.