Last year as Connecticut prepared for its first Thanksgiving holiday amidst the pandemic, the state’s COVID infection rate stood at 5.99%. One year and 2.4 million vaccinated residents later, the virus continues to circulate and on Wednesday it stood at 3.72%.
So what’s changed? Most notably, the number of COVID patients in Connecticut hospital beds. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, 2020, there were 968 hospitalized COVID patients in the state. That number went on to climb over 1,100 within a week.
On this Wednesday, 300 people with COVID, less than a third of last year’s count, were hospitalized with the virus. The Public Health Department said that 72.7% of those hospital patients were not fully vaccinated.
State officials have also attributed higher transmission rates to waning immunity from early vaccines. They encouraged anyone over 18 who was vaccinated more than six months ago with a Pfizer or Moderna formula or more than two months ago with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to get a booster shot.
“What we know is that for [people] 50 and older, that waning immunity is more likely to end up with potentially hospitalization or more serious consequences,” Public Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani said this week.
As of Monday, Gov. Ned Lamont said about 18% of eligible adults had received booster shots.
Residents have also become more accustomed to living with the ongoing pandemic which has changed our behavior. Last year at this time, Lamont called on residents to keep their holiday gatherings small and limit events to 10 or fewer participants. Lamont had also imposed restrictions on businesses. Restaurants were capped at 50% of their maximum capacity and dining rooms were ordered to close at 9:30 p.m. if they served alcohol.
This year, state-ordered mitigation policies have largely expired, the biggest exception being schools where students and staff are still required to wear masks. In many ways, life has returned to normal. Speaking to reporters this month, Dr. Ulysses Wu, Hartford HealthCare’s chief epidemiologist, said behaviors had changed dramatically since earlier in the pandemic.
“These precautions, we see they’re being relaxed by individuals and their own personal risk assessment,” Wu said. “What do I mean by that? They are taking more and more risks because either they got vaccinated or because they have immunity or they’re just fatigued from COVID and they don’t really care as much anymore.”
Public health officials urged residents to make their own risk assessments for holiday gatherings based on their own vulnerability and that of the people around them. Juthani said that in some cases, masking or testing ahead of time may be appropriate for get-togethers.
“It’s an uncomfortable decision, I think, for some people to have to weigh for themselves in terms of what is their own risk, what is their comfort level in terms of those around them,” Juthani said. “But one thing I can say is those who are vaccinated and particularly boosted are the most safe in the group.”
The governor said this week he did not foresee a need to reinstate any of the restrictions that had lapsed since the early days of the pandemic.
“We’re much better prepared than we were a year ago, much better prepared than we’ve been,” Lamont said. “You’ve got the vaccines, got the boosters, we’ve got the masks. We’re going to get through this no question about it. Let’s make sure that the next wave is the most mild of all.”