Naugatuck Valley area remains COVID hot spot

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — Waterbury and Naugatuck Valley towns remain COVID-19 hot spots in Connecticut even as vaccination rates increase.

The 69.3 cases per 100,000 population in Waterbury over the past two weeks was the highest in the state, and the neighboring towns of Watertown, Naugatuck, Wolcott and Thomaston all had rates topping 50 cases per 100,000.

State officials are uncertain about the causes behind the high case frequency rates in lower and central Naugatuck Valley.

“I’m not quite sure why this is happening, but we are paying particularly close attention to it,” Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday.

Paul Mounds Jr., the governor’s chief of staff, added, “We have seen this trend over the past couple of weeks.”

State and local health officials are doing contact tracing on every case of COVID-19 being reported in Naugatuck Valley communities, said Josh Geballe, chief operating officer of the Lamont administration.

“Given the high number of cases we have in the Valley, there has been a lot of additional follow-up and analysis there,” he said. “It is often very hard to trace back to exactly where and when someone got COVID.”

Lamont attributed the high case rates per 100,000 in the Naugatuck Valley to informal gatherings where people are not following basic public health precautions.

“I think sometimes people are not as inclined to wear the masks as they should,” he said.

Geballe concurred with the governor that people are getting casual. He said this is what has been seen not just in Connecticut, but elsewhere around the Northeast where COVID-19 is flaring up.

“We want to remind people to keep their guard up, keep the masks on a little bit longer, especially until you are fully vaccinated,” Geballe said. “Stay focused on those vaccination rates, too. Make sure we are doing everything we can to get as many people vaccinated in those communities as quickly as possible.”

Lamont said state officials have not analyzed where in Connecticut people are more likely to get vaccinated than other parts of the state. But he said mobile vaccine vans are being dispatched to the Naugatuck Valley to make it easier for people living in towns and cities there to get vaccinated. The state launched a fleet of 35 vans this week.

“If you’re in Waterbury and you see one of those vans, and you haven’t been vaccinated, feel free to walk up and see if you can get vaccinated,” Lamont said.

VACCINE PRODUCTION ISSUES will hamper the ongoing state efforts to boost vaccination rates in targeted communities and populations.

Lamont and Geballe reported there will be a significant drop in deliveries of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine following a recent factory error that ruined 15 million doses.

State officials have been relying on the J&J vaccine to increase vaccination rates among minority and rural populations to remedy racial, ethnic and geographic disparities. There also was a plan to offer college students the single-shot vaccine before the spring semester ended.

Last week, the state received 53,900 J&J doses. State officials were expecting 20,000 doses next week, but Geballe said the state’s allocation will be just 6,400 doses. State health officials have advised vaccine providers that shipments in the coming weeks could be lower.

“It’s a little bit indefinite right now,” Geballe said. “For the time being, we’ve been told to expect much lower quantities of Johnson & Johnson versus what had previously been indicated.”

He said the supply could drop to 2,000 for the week of April 19.

Lamont and Geballe said no disruptions are expected in the supply of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. About 88,000 doses are expected in the next two weeks.

“We’ll be able to stay very busy and largely stay on track with our prior estimates,” Geballe said.

Lamont said getting a vaccine shot is most important.

“If you got a chance to get vaccinated, don’t worry about the brand,” he said.

MORE THAN 2.2 MILLION DOSES have been administered since the vaccination program was launched in mid-December, including 74,258 doses of the J&J vaccine.

To date, 883,169 people have been fully vaccinated, meaning they received a shot of the single-dose J&J vaccine, or a second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Geballe noted the state has been vaccinating between 40,000 and 50,000 people a day.

At this time, 49% of Connecticut residents ages 16 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine.

“I think things are stabilizing,” Lamont said.

Public health officials Thursday reported 1,012 new cases of COVID-19 out of 42,067 tests results received through Wednesday for an infection rate of slightly more than 2.1%. Only one new hospitalization was reported for a total of 515 statewide.

Five more deaths were reported for a total of 7,940.

The state reported there have been 3,239 cases in Naugatuck, 829 in Prospect and 513 in Beacon Falls since last March.

There have been 88 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck, six in Beacon Falls and four in Prospect, according to state officials.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.