'I'm afraid for the next week': CT doctors brace for COVID surge from Thanksgiving

Photo of Peter Yankowski
George Robinson, of Danbury, has his vitals taken by Courtney Cass, right, for a coronavirus test at AFC Urgent Care on Main Street in Danbury, Conn, Thursday, April 23, 2020. Robinson has had two prior tests return positive and was getting his third test after isolating at home for over two weeks.
H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media

As hospitalizations reached its highest point since early May, Connecticut recorded nearly 2,700 new COVID cases on Wednesday — nearly a week after Thanksgiving.

But two top Connecticut doctors say even though there has been heightened concern about families who gathered for the holiday, it’s too soon to tell if the surge of infections is related.

“It’s hard to say,” said Dr. Michael Perry, chairman of infectious diseases at Stamford Health Medical Group. “We’ve seen a gradual trend up over the last three to four weeks ... there’s plenty of peaks and valleys, it’s not a straight line.”

Perry pointed to a lag of three to four days for test results to come back from a lab — meaning the latest data could have been from tests administered over the weekend.

Dr. Ajay Kumar, chief clinical officer at Hartford HealthCare, also said it was “too early” to connect Wednesday’s cases with Thanksgiving. He estimated test results should begin to reflect the holiday’s impact next week.

“To put it mildly, I’m afraid for the next week,” he said.

In addition to the 2,672 new COVID cases, Connecticut health officials reported 51 more deaths associated with the disease on Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 5,091.

Another 50 patients were hospitalized for the illness, bringing the total statewide to 1,202 — the most since May 10.

Kumar noted the incline of new hospitalizations is more gradual than it was in the spring. The patients coming in with the disease are also younger, something he said has its positives and negatives.

On the bright side, younger patients are able to recover from the disease faster, he said.

“The bad is that when the younger people are infected, they are more mobile,” Kumar said. “They’re more social as well, they’re interacting with more people.”

As COVID cases have surged in recent weeks, some Connecticut schools have closed due to the rising number of staff members who have been quarantined.

Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said new quarantine guidelines could bring some relief to the short-handed districts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now recommended a shorter quarantine period for some people who may have been exposed to COVID-19.

Those who show no symptoms of infection need to self-isolate for 10 days, while those who test negative for the virus only need to quarantine for seven days, according to the latest CDC guidance.

But the 14-day quarantine period is still considered the safest option, the CDC advises.

“Four days less of a teacher being out of a classroom is wonderful,” Rabinowitz said.

“I think it would be naïve to say there won’t be staffing shortages,” she added, but said the shortened quarantine period would still help.

She said there are widespread quarantine-related staffing issues, with many districts facing “double-digit” numbers of staff home due to potential exposure to the virus.

Made with Flourish

District officials in Fairfield cited that issue this week when they announced Timothy Dwight Elementary School would go fully remote through Friday. Eleven staff members there were forced to quarantine, Superintendent Mike Cummings said in a message to families, significantly impacting the “school’s ability to function in a safe and effective manner.”

Late Tuesday, Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order that, among other things, made it easier for districts to hire short-term substitutes who don’t have a bachelor’s degree.

Rabinowitz said the order will let schools hire a sub to monitor classrooms in-person while a teacher who is quarantining instructs students remotely.

The plan offers students “continuity of instruction” with teachers who know the students and the material.

As districts closed and shifted to remote instruction this spring, the move caused issues for some families without home internet access.

On Wednesday, the Lamont administration announced the state has delivered 141,000 laptops to students. The state has also used federal CARES Act funding to provide 44,000 home internet connections, according to the governor’s office.

The CDC recommendation came the same day regulators in the United Kingdom approved emergency use of the vaccine developed by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, the Associated Press reported.

The Food and Drug Administration is still reviewing the vaccine for emergency use authorization in the U.S., and is expected to reach a decision perhaps as soon as late next week.

A second vaccine developed by Moderna is also in the pipeline for emergency-use authorization by the FDA, and could be approved about a week later, Lamont said Monday.

Asked about the shortened quarantine period Monday, before the CDC officially changed its guidance, Lamont noted European countries had already reduced their quarantine period.

“It’s not just teachers, but it’s nurses, the front-line workers — a lot of whom if they’re no longer infecting, it’d be great if we could get them back helping out,” the governor said.