No COVID bump - including zero deaths in 3 days - after CT lifts mask mandate, data shows

While there has been no increase in COVID transmission since the mask mandate ended, health experts are still concerned about coronavirus variants and vaccination rates plateauing.

While there has been no increase in COVID transmission since the mask mandate ended, health experts are still concerned about coronavirus variants and vaccination rates plateauing.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

Four weeks after mask-wearing rules were relaxed, there has been no noticeable increase in coronavirus transmission in Connecticut, though experts warn that plateauing vaccination rates and the emergence of a more infectious variant creates an uncertain future for COVID in the state.

Pedro Mendes, a disease modeler at the University of Connecticut, said Hartford’s John Dempsey Hospital has seen “a period of two weeks without any COVID patient,” which he called “a record, since the pandemic started.”

“My model is providing a very optimistic outlook, and the number of hospitalizations statewide is also falling fast,” Mendes said.

As of Monday, the state recorded no new COVID deaths since Friday. During that time, hospitalizations increased by one patient and there were 92 new cases found out of 23,001 tests for a three-day positivity rate of 0.4 percent.

This year, the average seven-day positivity rate in Connecticut was 0.5 percent as of Monday, three weeks after the Memorial Day holiday.

“Connecticut did not see a bump in its COVID numbers after the Memorial Day weekend, which we see as a testament to our strong vaccination numbers,” said Maura Fitzgerald, a spokesperson for the state Department of Public Health.

There was much the same situation in June last year. On June 21, 2020, the average positivity rate was 1.1 percent and heading down, though a second wave then hit in the fall.

“Last summer, we saw a decline in cases and hospitalizations as people adhered to social distancing and activities moved outdoors, so with the addition of vaccines this year, we expect to see that trend reemerge this summer, but hopefully with even lower infection and hospitalization rates,” Fitzgerald said.

While vaccinations are playing a role in mitigating the spread of COVID in Connecticut, Rick Martinello, director of infection prevention at Yale New Haven Health, said it’s not the only factor to consider.

The seasonality of the coronavirus is not fully understood yet, and neither is the natural ebb and flow of viral waves. Though “we know why pandemic waves start,” Martinello said, “there's just very little information out there even hypothesizing as to why pandemic waves recede.”

Last summer, while there was no bump in transmission after Memorial Day, there was a small increase about two weeks after the Fourth of July holiday. And by the end of September, it was clear Connecticut was in for a second wave.

“We know the first wave ended last spring, a year ago, let's call it, and why would that happen?” Martinello asked. “Probably no more than 20 percent of the population developed immunity through their illness, there was no vaccination at that point. To say it's incompletely understood is, I think, an understatement.”

Vaccination rates will also be important as the fall approaches, Martinello said. The vaccination rate in Connecticut has remained reasonably steady at just under 60 percent of the adult population.

The issue, according to Fitzgerald, is unvaccinated adults between the ages of 18 and 39.

“We are seeing slower uptake of vaccine here in Connecticut, and nationally, in this age group,” she said. “That means this group remains susceptible to getting sick or hospitalized from COVID, and with the Delta variant and other potentially more infectious and deadly variants, we won’t be able to fully put this pandemic behind us until everyone is fully vaccinated.”

As for what this fall holds, Martinello said he hopes “we're going to see a surge in interest in vaccination” when the weather starts turning colder, though he admits that’s possibly “wishful thinking.”

“School's out. People's attention shifts. There's pandemic fatigue. They're ready for the summer. They don't want to think about COVID anymore,” he said. “That's unfortunate, because that's clearly working against us.”

The Delta variant, which is thought to be somewhat more transmissible than the original coronavirus strains that have already come through the state, is also causing a measure of uncertainty.

Martinello estimated the Delta variant is causing about 6 percent of the COVID infections in Connecticut.

“The wild card out there right now is the Delta variant,” he said. “We know the vaccine, while still effective, is not quite as effective against this variant, as it is against the other strains of COVID.”