Lamont eyes mandatory vaccinations, testing for nursing home workers

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

MANCHESTER — Gov. Ned Lamont inched closer Wednesday to invoking his emergency powers to require mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations or testing for nursing home workers.

Lamont told reporters during a mid-day news conference in Manchester to expect an announcement within 24 hours when asked if he planned to follow Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker in taking that big step. On Wednesday, Baker ordered staff working in long-term care facilities to receive COVID-19 vaccines with exceptions only for medical reasons or sincerely held religious beliefs.

“We’re definitely thinking about that,” Lamont said. “We have been talking to the nursing homes. Given where we were in nursing homes, you know, 16 months ago, it is more important than ever. We know a lot of the vaccinations are wearing off in the elder community, where they maybe don’t keep the antibodies as long. So, I think that is going to be a priority. We’ll probably have something to say on it within 24 hours.”

In Connecticut, there have been 4,990 cases of COVID-19 and five deaths reported among nursing home staff, according to the latest available state figures. There were 19 new cases in the last two-week reporting period that ended July 20. In contrast, only six new infections were reported among residents.

Lamont said he believes he could use his emergency powers to establish a vaccination policy through executive order. In June 2020, the governor mandated COVID-19 testing for the staff of all nursing homes and assisted-living communities.

In Massachusetts, Baker is requiring long-term care workers get fully vaccinated between Sept. 1 and Oct. 10 before state health officials begin enforcing the vaccination mandate.

The nursing home industry is ready to comply if Lamont imposes a staff vaccination mandate.

“If Connecticut state government adopted such a policy, the public should expect that Connecticut nursing homes would comply without any hesitancy with such a directive. Some are already moving in this direction,” said Matthew Barrett, president of Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities and Connecticut Center for Assisted Living.

Genesis HealthCare, the largest publicly traded nursing home company in the United States, is mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for employees of its nearly 400 nursing homes and senior communities, including Glendale Center in Naugatuck and 18 other facilities in Connecticut. A phone message left with Glendale Center seeking comment was not returned Wednesday evening.

Genesis, which announced the policy Monday, is requiring staff, visiting providers, care partners and vendors to get either the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or the first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines by Aug. 23. If applicable, the second dose would be needed by Sept. 22.

The company said in a statement it made the decision based on the fact patients in its nursing homes are at greater risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19, and because that threat is significantly reduced through universal vaccination.

Genesis said 85% of its patients and residents, and 65% of its staff, have been vaccinated.

Like the rest of the U.S., nursing homes were coronavirus hot spots in Connecticut, and an independent review found the state’s emergency response planning overlooked nursing homes at the start of the outbreak in March 2020.

Infections, hospitalizations and deaths plunged as the vulnerable nursing home population was vaccinated between December 2020 and February.

There have been slightly more than 9,800 cases reported among the nursing home population. The last death was reported eight weeks ago. Nursing home residents represented slightly less than half of the 8,293 deaths attributed to COVID-19 or complications from the disease since March 2020, according to the latest weekly total.

Andrew Larson contributed to this report.