State reports first case of new coronavirus variant


By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — State health officials on Monday reported the first case of the worrisome South African strain of the coronavirus in Connecticut, posing a new public health challenge as conditions in the COVID-19 outbreak are improving.

The announcement Monday is concerning because the infection was not connected to travel so the B.1.351 variant has arrived in the state almost three weeks after the first cases were identified in the United States.

The B.1.351 variant that was first identified in South Africa in October spreads more easily, can cause more serious illness than the original virus and vaccines could be less effective against it, according to officials.

The report Monday was followed news Friday that 22 additional cases of another more contagious United Kingdom variant of the virus has been identified in Connecticut. That brought the total to 42 cases of the B.1.1.7 strain since confirmation of the first two infections was received on Jan. 6. The governor’s office said Monday that no cases have been reported in a long-term care setting.

There have now been more than 270,000 cases of COVID-19 reported in Connecticut since the first cases were identified early last March.

The state Department of Public Health reported the first case of the South African variant is a resident of Fairfield County aged 60 to 70 who is hospitalized in New York state. The individual’s condition was said to be improving.

Public health officials in New York reported the infection over the weekend. State health and local health officials in Connecticut are coordinating with counterparts in New York. Contact tracing has been completed.

The DPH report Monday comes almost three weeks after the B.1.351 strain was first identified in the U.S. in South Carolina. Two adults in separate regions of the state tested positive for the mutant virus, and neither had recently traveled.

The announcement Monday prompted renewed calls for wearing masks, observing social distancing, avoiding gatherings with people outside of the household and following other public health precautions to limit community spread. Dr. Deidre S. Gifford, the acting public health commissioner, advised state residents to follow new federal guidance calling for double masking in certain circumstances.

The arrival of the South African variant and the spreading of the U.K. strain are coinciding with a slowdown in the state’s second COVID-19 outbreak.

The number of patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 continued to decrease over the weekend. There was a net decline of 56 patients from last Thursday to 618 statewide on Sunday, the lowest bed count in three months.

The latest weekly federal report on hospital capacity issued last Thursday said 80.2% of hospital beds were occupied, and the occupancy rate of intensive care unit beds was 61%.

There were 2,905 new cases of COVID-19 out of 97,516 test results reported between Friday and Sunday for a positive test rate of 3%.

State health officials reported another 66 coronavirus-linked deaths over the weekend. There now have been 7,447 deaths attributed to COVID-19 or complications from the viral disease.

The state reported 36 new cases in Naugatuck, 10 in Prospect and eight in Beacon Falls since last Thursday. There have been 2,653 cases in Naugatuck, 665 in Prospect and 426 in Beacon Falls since last March.

There weren’t any new coronavirus-associated deaths reported in the three municipalities. There have been 83 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck, six in Beacon Falls and two in Prospect.

Infection and death rates have continued to decline in Connecticut nursing home. Residents and staff of nursing homes were part of the first group to receive COVID-19 vaccines, starting in mid-December.

There were 52 new cases of COVID-19 in 20 nursing homes and 17 coronavirus-associated deaths in eight nursing homes documented in the latest weekly report that was issued last Thursday. This represents an 89% decline in cases since the start of the year, and deaths in nursing homes were down 85%.

The additional cases of COVID-19 among the nursing population and deaths brought the case total to 13,833 and the death toll to 3,890.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.