As COVID-related hospitalizations continue to rise in Connecticut, state leaders and health care providers have agreed to a narrow list of high-risk medical conditions that would provide accelerated access when vaccine eligibility expands this week.
Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday that providers had agreed to the list of five conditions: sickle cell anemia, an active cancer treatment, recipients of solid organ transplants, end-stage renal disease and Down syndrome.
“Those are the key categories that our hospitals are reaching out right now to make sure you are close to the front of the line as we make this available to all age groups on Thursday,” Lamont said.
Accelerated access for those with the listed medical conditions does not represent a new policy, but rather a request that hospitals move quickly to vaccinate those most vulnerable as 1.3 million residents become eligible Thursday. State officials estimate there are about 10,000 people with these conditions who have not yet been vaccinated.
While the state’s list of conditions left out about half those identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as high-risk illnesses, Connecticut officials pointed out that everyone can make an appointment starting Thursday.
“[The list] is just a little extra invitation from hospitals for certain severely ill people to make it a little easier to get in over the next week or so,” said Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer.
The list of conditions was derived from a number of conversations between Geballe, Acting Department of Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford and hospital leaders, officials said.
Dr. Tom Balcezak, chief medical officer at Yale New Haven Hospital, said health care systems may implement their lists of these patients differently. He described it as “enhanced access,” likening it to TSA PreCheck that speeds up times at airport security checkpoints.
For those with the high-risk medical conditions, Geballe said some hospitals may have special clinics, dedicated outreach with reserved appointment slots or vaccinations during scheduled doctors’ appointments.
Lamont said Monday there are also plans to quickly vaccinate all patients at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital. The state Department of Developmental Services will hold roughly 20 dedicated clinics for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, which is about 9,000 residents, in the next several weeks.
As cases continue to spread among young people, Lamont said there are plans for special Johnson & Johnson vaccine clinics in May for college students and Pfizer vaccine clinics for high school students starting in April. Pfizer’s vaccine is the only one approved for people age 16 to 18.
Despite vaccine efforts, COVID hospitalizations have jumped to 498 with a net of 42 more patients over the weekend. The positivity rate for new tests was about 3.5 percent with 3,229 new cases confirmed through the weekend. The state also said 18 more people died for a total of 7,883.
Lamont acknowledged that hospitalizations were the highest in a month, but stressed there is still “tons of capacity” in the state.
“Nothing to worry about there, but it’s something we continue to watch,” Lamont said.
The positivity rate has remained above 3.5 percent for much of the past week, and state officials continued to urge people to guard against the spread of the virus.
“We’ve got a little spring fever because it’s been a very, very long year. And I appreciate that. ... I can’t say firmly enough, we can make an enormous difference for the rest of the summer and the rest of the year going forward if we keep our guard up a little bit longer,” Lamont said.
The increase in cases comes more than a week after the state lifted many business restrictions while easing limits on gatherings. Given the pace of vaccinations, Lamont said he did not think the state would have to roll back any restrictions.
The increase in cases and hospitalizations in Connecticut appear to mirror a nationwide trend. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of CDC, said Monday she had a feeling of “impending doom” as key metrics were up across the country.
“We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential for where we are, and so much reason for hope, but right now I’m scared,” Walensky said during the White House COVID briefing.
Walensky said the trajectory of the pandemic in the U.S. appears to be similar to what occurred in several European countries, including Germany, France and Italy ahead of “consistent and worrying” spikes in cases.
If people do not work together, Walensky warned of a fourth U.S. surge of COVID cases.
Lamont said Connecticut would manage any potential fourth wave of the virus because “some of the most vulnerable have already been vaccinated.”
He said the state will also address any surge in cases by soon focusing vaccine efforts on Connecticut’s high school and college students.
“I think Connecticut and I think most of the United States is going to manage pretty well just because we are accelerating our vaccination in a big way,” Lamont said.
By Monday, the state said nearly 1.2 million first doses of the vaccine had been administered and 684,200 people were fully vaccinated. Starting this week, there will be 240,000 first doses available for appointments.
Speeding up the process, Geballe said the state expects more pharmacies will start offering the vaccine in line with President Joe Biden’s commitment Monday to increase the number of them administering shots.
State reiterated their belief that all those who immediately want to get vaccinated will be able to get a first dose by the end of April.
“At some point in the next several weeks, you might not need a reservation. Just go get vaccinated,” Lamont said.