COVID-19 hospitalizations drop below 100 in CT for first time since Sept.

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NEW HAVEN — As the number of COVID-19 patients in Connecticut dropped below 100 Tuesday for the first time since Sept. 28, 2020, the concern of Yale New Haven Health System’s officials has turned to those who have yet to be vaccinated.

Gov. Ned Lamont announced there were 94 cases statewide Tuesday, the lowest total in eight months. There were just 33 in Yale New Haven’s five hospitals.

Through the long weekend, state officials said the positivity rate for new tests was 1 percent and an additional six people died.

Vaccination likely provides greater immunity than a COVID-19 infection does, said Dr. Thomas Balcezak, chief clinical officer for Yale New Haven Health, during an online press briefing Tuesday.

“We’ve now delivered more than 425,000 doses of vaccine across the Yale New Haven Health System and our colleagues across the state have done enormous work on mass vaccination,” Balcezak said. Yale New Haven’s mass-vaccination sites are now giving second doses only and will close soon.

And while the system has seen 20 “breakthrough” cases of COVID in vaccinated people, “very few patients who have been vaccinated have gotten COVID-19 in a severe enough form that they required admission. None of them required ICU,” he said.

He said that since older people are more likely to have gotten a vaccine, “we are admitting a much younger demographic than we were a year ago or six months ago.”

Moderna’s announcement Tuesday that it was seeking full approval of its vaccine from the Food and Drug Administration may help in the effort to bring in people who have been hesitant to get a vaccination, Balcezak said. Pfizer and BioNTech asked for approval last month. Until now, the vaccines have been given under an emergency use authorization from the FDA.

“There are some people who look at full approval as more of a sense of a seal of approval by the FDA,” Balcezak said. “We have more than enough evidence that there is safety and efficacy in this vaccine.”

He said, “I anticipate we will pretty rapidly see full approval before too many more weeks go by.”

Balcezak said the vaccines have been shown to be effective against all the variants that have appeared. “This is an evolving story,” he said. “Right now it appears that all of the circulating variants, and there are dozens of them — there are just a few variants of concern as they call them ... that all three of the vaccines that are in use in the United States are at least somewhat protective against all of the circulating variants right now.”

As the state has opened up and loosened restrictions on wearing masks, Balcezak said “short of asking them, there’s no way of knowing” whether someone who isn’t wearing a mask has been vaccinated.

“I think we’ve all be looking for clear guidance since the beginning, but we are lacking that guidance, I’m afraid,” he said. “And we don’t do very well when there’s gray. We like the clear black and white.”

But he said the lack of guidance wasn’t the fault of state or federal officials. “It’s not that there’s folks that have the answers and they’re not simply providing them. It’s just that we don’t know the answers.” In terms of masking or having more people in restaurants, Balcezak said, “These are difficult questions. It’s not for a lack of trying. It’s just that this situation does not have clear answers for us.”

He said he noticed “how seemingly arbitrary it is when you go shopping on the weekend … about what the policy is for the store or place that you are going into, and it sort of becomes a guessing game about what is going to be expected of you when you go into different locations, so you end up carrying your mask and asking folks, do you want me to wear it? Do you not want me to wear it? … When in doubt, wear a mask.”

Balcezak also said there have been 13 cases of myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, at Yale New Haven Health among people who have been vaccinated, “usually happening within just a few days of first, or more likely second dose of vaccine” all but one male with an average age of 24. One case was with Johnson & Johnson vaccine; the rest were Moderna or Pfizer, he said.

There also have been a few cases of pericarditis, inflammation of the tissue surrounding the heart, Balcezak said.

As of Tuesday, there were 19 COVID patients at Yale New Haven Hospital, eight at Bridgeport Hospital, one at Greenwich Hospital, five at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital in New London and none at Westerly Hospital in Rhode Island, according to Yale New Haven Health CEO Marna Borgstrom. Eleven were in intensive care and six on ventilators.

edward.stannard@hearstmediact.com; 203-680-9382