State reports 4 new cases of more contagious coronavirus variant

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — State health officials are reporting four more cases of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus that initially surfaced in the United Kingdom in Connecticut.

Gov. Ned Lamont on Monday described the discovery as “a black cloud” because of the increased potential for community spread from this highly infectious strain of the virus that has already claimed more than 6,900 lives in the state since last March.

“We knew it was here in this state, we knew it was here in this country, but now we are slapped in the face by this fact,” he said.

Lamont also announced that he plans to take action Tuesday to extend the current public health and civil preparedness emergencies through April 20 so he can continue to set statewide coronavirus rules and suspend or modify state laws, regulations and requirements through executive order.

There are now eight Connecticut residents who have contracted the U.K. variant of the coronavirus, and the four new cases are residents of Oxford and New Haven, though only two live in the same household

In all, the state Department of Public Health is reporting the infected include two residents of New Haven, three residents of Oxford and three residents of West Haven. They range in age from 15 to 50.

Aside from the two household members, state health officials said there does not appear to be a link between these individuals, nor does there appear to be a link with the other four previously identified cases. One individual remains in isolation and the others have completed their isolation periods.

The DPH has confirmed that one individual recently traveled to the United Arab Emirates and had contact with a person who tested positive there. Travel histories on the other individuals are unknown at this time.

State health officials reported the state’s third and fourth cases of the U.K. variant last Thursday, and both were family members of one of the initial two cases that were identified three weeks ago.

LAMONT HAD NO ESTIMATES on the number of state residents who may have already contracted the U.K. strain.

“I think we’re assuming that is much more widespread than you see just in those eight. It is a pretty complicated genetic test to see whether you have this supercharged variant or not. So, I think that is probably the limiting factor,” he said. “We’re definitely more than what we are counting now.”

There now have been 243,632 cases of COVID-19 reported in Connecticut with the addition Monday of 5,817 new cases that were reported between Friday and Sunday, including the four cases of the U.K. variant.

Lamont said the detection of the four additional cases of this B.1.1.7 strain tempered otherwise encouraging developments in the state’s COVID-19 outbreak.

He said the positive test rate has been stabilizing recently, and hospitalizations have plateaued, and it appeared the surge from the Christmas and New Year’s holidays has run its course.

The daily positive test rate reported Monday was 4.7% out of 123,037 test results that were received over the weekend. There was net increase of 10 patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 to 1,068 statewide.

State health officials also received reports of 92 more coronavirus-linked deaths. This raised the death toll from 6,819 on Thursday to 6,911.

The state reported Monday there have been 2,445 cases in Naugatuck, 601 cases in Prospect and 384 in Beacon Falls since last March.

There have been 80 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck, four in Beacon Falls and two in Prospect since last March, according to state data.

CURRENTLY, THERE IS NO evidence that the U.K. variant causes more severe illness or increased risk of death, but research indicates it is more highly transmissible than other SARS-CoV-2, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC is also cautioning that the U.K. strain has the potential to increase the U.S. pandemic trajectory in the coming months. This worries the governor, and he said it adds to the urgency to get as much of the state’s population vaccinated as possible.

“We are racing to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we can ahead of what could be this super-contagious strain, and that is what is what we are going to find out,” Lamont said.

SOME 308,502 DOSES of the currently available Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been administered since mid-December when the state vaccination program was launched.

Some 265,947 people have received the first of the required two doses of each vaccine, and 42,555 second doses have been administered, according to an update Monday. State officials are inquiring with the CDC about a discrepancy with a federal tally showing 321,227 doses have been given out.

At this time, the state is generally receiving shipments of 46,900 first-time doses a week, plus the required amount of second doses that correspond to first doses that Pfizer and Moderna previously delivered, said Josh Geballe, the governor’s chief operating officer.

By the end of the week, he estimated that the state will have received approximately 585,000 vaccine doses from the federal government — 398,000 first doses and 187,000 second doses.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.