Delta variant cases rising in CT as COVID positivity rate remains over 1%, report shows

Local residents get tested for COVID at various testing sites around the city Saturday, January 30, 2021, in Norwalk, Conn.

Local residents get tested for COVID at various testing sites around the city Saturday, January 30, 2021, in Norwalk, Conn.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

While Connecticut continues to see a decline in new vaccinations administered weekly, the highly transmissible delta variant is continuing to spread amid an increase in total infections.

On Thursday, the state reported genetic sequencing identified another 36 infections in the past week that were associated with the delta variant, bringing the total to 87.

The daily positivity rate again remained 1.28 percent for a second straight day, the state reported. Hospitalizations climbed by eight patients to a total of 38. An additional three deaths were recorded in the last week.

It remains uncertain what trajectory the pandemic will take in the coming weeks and months, but in light of the delta variant, health experts and state officials are confident that COVID-19 will not go away anytime soon.

“We are still one of the best in the nation, but we are not out of the woods,” Gov. Ned Lamont said during one of his public appearances this week.

The infection rate, while still much lower than the worst of the pandemic, has risen by nearly 1 percent since a pandemic low a month ago of 0.30 percent.

While Lamont has lifted nearly all restrictions, including requirements that fully vaccinated people wear masks inside, one requirement remains in limbo: Whether students will need to wear masks in school when they return in the fall.

When asked in recent weeks about what the state will require in the fall, Lamont’s response has highlighted the growing concern over the delta variant, which has been circulating in Connecticut since at least early June.

“Look, I thought we were out of the woods three weeks ago, then we saw this delta variant,” Lamont said this week. “We saw how fast it could spread within a community of unvaccinated people.”

With the future of the pandemic still unclear, the legislature granted an extension to Lamont’s emergency powers that have been used in the past to issue executive orders limiting gathering sizes and requiring masks.

Pointing to the threat of the variants, Lamont said after the vote: “I appreciate the legislature giving me a little bit of discretion so we can respond quickly enough to respond if this delta variant gets more dangerous.”

While researchers have cautioned that given the number of overall infections has made it difficult to determine the prevalence of the delta variant in Connecticut, top doctors at Yale New Haven Health said it accounts for about 50 percent of new cases — mirroring national statistics on the strain’s impact.

“We're going to be living with the coronavirus in our communities for a long time to come,” said Marna P. Borgstrom, the CEO of Yale New Haven Health.

Studies have shown promise that at least the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine gives those who have received the required two doses will have a good defense against the delta variant, but little research has shown how Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines handle the variant, believed by researches to be 60 times more transmissible than the alpha variant, first found in the United Kingdom.

But Connecticut has been struggling since late May with driving up its vaccinate rate. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 68.2 percent of all residents have received at least one dose and 62 percent are fully vaccinated.

The state’s data shows those numbers have been slow to increase through June and early July, with new vaccines administered reaching about 30,000 doses, down from more than 300,000 doses in mid-April.

Now roughly six months into the vaccine program, and in light of the more infectious strains of the virus starting to become dominant, focus has turned to boosters. But there is little clear consensus about whether a booster would be needed. And while the top vaccine-makers are studying boosters, only Pfizer has started to approach federal regulators for possible approval of a third dose.

And given the rapid development of the vaccines against a virus that quickly swept across the world, the durability of the immunity conferred by the vaccine remains among the open questions the pandemic has posed.

For some, it’s been six months since they were fully vaccinated. “This is when we start to get anxious about are vaccines wearing off,” said Dr. Rick Martinello, director of infection prevention at Yale New Have Health.

Martinello said it can be a difficult question to answer because from month-to-month, the amount of disease circulating in the community can differ wildly, as much as 100-fold.

In April, he said, community rates were between 50 to 70 cases per 100,000, but now it’s closer to two cases per 100,000.

“Our risk, even if we're behaving exactly the same ... is very different this time of the year,” he said.