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Governor Relaxing COVID Restrictions As Newtown Educators Queue Up For Weekend Vaccinations



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UPDATE: This report has been updated from the version appearing in our March 5 print edition to include information about some virus-related restrictions being lifted in the coming weeks.

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By the time local public school students return to class next week, more than 500 of their educators and support staff will be more protected from COVID-19.

Newtown Health District Director Donna Culbert said the weekend will bring two clinics that plan to vaccinate approximately 550 school district staff members.

“The health district is planning to do about 150 at our clinic Saturday at Reed [Intermediate School]. And the Connecticut Institute for Communities that runs our in-school health clinic at the Middle School is scheduled to give out around 400 shots at a clinic they are running at the high school,” Culbert told The Newtown Bee.

“Folks just need to be reminded that we are still not doing any walk-in vaccines through the health district — every clinic we’re running so far is by appointment only,” she added.

And those clinics have been successful in dispensing at least 1,000 first doses, Culbert said. To date, she believes that every Newtown resident over the age of 70 who wanted to be vaccinated against COVID-19 has been.

She said that two other clinics the health district is holding before the end of this week are only administering second doses.

“I believe we are into the 60s,” she said, reiterating that while the state is permitting anyone age 55 and over to schedule a vaccine appointment, the health district clinics are working their way down from Newtown’s oldest residents.

Culbert is also continuing to hear from frustrated residents who qualify for a vaccine that they either cannot access an appointment, or that the appointments available are extending into April and even May.

“But folks should keep trying to book an earlier appointment if they can,” she said, “because clinics are opening up additional appointments every day as they are determining they will have extra doses beyond those already booked by appointment.”

She said generally, clinics will not open appointments until they are certain the allotment of vaccines they are getting meets or exceeds the number of appointments they are making each day. She also said a regional mass vaccination operation is poised to open at the Danbury Fair Mall in the coming days.

“That Danbury clinic at the mall just received state health department approval, so it looks like it will be up and running pretty quickly,” Culbert said.

She believes the Danbury clinic will be administering hundreds of COVID vaccines daily, as long as the supply lines remain open. In closing, Culbert said she is happy and somewhat relieved to see infection and deaths related to the virus trending down locally and statewide.

“But we aren’t out of the woods yet, and now is the time to be extra vigilant, especially if you haven’t gotten vaccinated yet,” she said, adding that variants are still spreading aggressively and continue to pose a significant risk for everyone in local households and businesses.

On Friday, February 26, the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) reported an additional 21 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19, commonly known as the UK variant, among Connecticut residents, bringing the statewide total number of confirmed cases of this variant to 63. The specimen collection dates for these newly identified cases are from between February 3 and February 17, and the individuals involved range in age from 5 to 80 years old.

The 21 individuals are residents of the following towns: Bridgeport (1); Guilford (1); Hamden (1); Meriden (1); New Haven (12); Stamford (2); Wallingford (1); and West Haven (2).

Easing Gathering Restrictions

Late Thursday afternoon after the print edition of The Newtown Bee went to press, Governor Ned Lamont announced that in the coming days he plans to revise some requirements that were implemented in Connecticut in the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly when it comes to those relating to capacity levels and travel restrictions.

The governor stressed that while some of these restrictions are being eased, all of the protocols that relate to face coverings, social distancing, and cleaning measures are being maintained, and people and businesses are urged to continue adhering to those health and safety procedures.

“While it is encouraging to see the number of cases in our state gradually going down and people getting vaccinated at rates that are among the highest in the nation, we need to continue taking this virus seriously to mitigate its spread as much as possible,” Lamont said. “Please continue to wear face coverings in public and when around other people outside of your households, maintain social distancing, and keep washing your hands and cleaning surfaces. Connecticut has made tremendous strides to combat this pandemic, and we don’t want to lose the progress that we’ve made.”

Protocols that will remain in effect until further notice include:

•Face coverings and masks continue to be required

•Bars that only serve beverages continue to remain closed

•An 11 pm closing time remains in place for events at venues, restaurants, and entertainment

•Indoor theaters continue to have a 50% capacity

•Large event venues (e.g. stadiums) to open in April

The protocols that will be revised in the coming days include:

Beginning Friday, March 19 — all capacity limits will be eliminated for the following businesses, while face coverings, social distancing, and other cleaning and disinfecting protocols will continue to be required:

Restaurants (eight-person table capacity and 11PM required closing time for dining rooms continues); retail; libraries; personal services; indoor recreation (excludes theaters, which will continue to have a 50% capacity); gyms/fitness centers; museums, aquariums, and zoos; offices; and houses of worship.

Gathering sizes will be revised to the following amounts:

*Social and recreational gatherings at private residence – 25 indoors/100 outdoors

*Social and recreational gatherings at commercial venues – 100 indoors/200 outdoors

All sports will be allowed to practice and compete, and all sports tournaments will be allowed, subject to Department of Public Health guidance. And Connecticut’s travel advisory will be modified from a requirement to recommended guidance.

Beginning Monday, March 29 — capacity limits on early childhood classes will increase from 16 to 20

Beginning Friday, April 2 — outdoor amusement parks can open; outdoor event venues can increase to a 50% capacity, capped at 10,000 people; indoor stadiums can open at 10% capacity; and summer camps and summer festivals are advised to begin the planning stages to open for the upcoming season.

From Red To Orange

By March 3, the state DPH tallied 1,548 COVID-19 cases in Newtown since the virus began taking hold just about one year ago. The community has lost at least one more resident to the virus this week, bringing the death count up to 64. Newtown also came into the week seeing its positivity index change from red to orange on the state’s positivity map.

Orange indicates case rates between ten to 14 cases per 100,000 population. Bridgewater and Roxbury, which are part of the Newtown Health District, are currently in the gray zone, with case rates lower than five per 100,000 population.

Fairfield County continues to lead the state in confirmed virus cases at 81,312, and its 2,063 deaths are slightly outpaced by Hartford County, which has registered 2,293 lives lost.

By March 3, the total of laboratory-confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases reported among Connecticut residents is 283,622; 451 patients were hospitalized on that date with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, and 7,678 COVID-19-associated deaths had been recorded.

At press time, the state has administered over one million vaccines, protecting at least 75% of residents age 75 and over, and more than half (52%) of state residents between age 65 and 74.

Those who are currently eligible to receive the vaccine under Connecticut’s COVID-19 vaccination program include all individuals age 55 and up, as well as all health care personnel, medical first responders, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, residents and staff of select congregate settings, and preK-12 school staff and professional child care providers.

Over the coming weeks, eligibility will expand based on age according to the following schedule:

March 22: Expands to ages 45 to 54

April 12: Expands to ages 35 to 44

May 3: Expands to ages 16 to 34

Information on Connecticut’s COVID-19 vaccination program is available at ct.gov/covidvaccine.

More Doses Coming

On March 1, the state estimated that more than 500,000 individuals in Connecticut between the ages of 55 and 64 became eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, in addition to about 160,000 school staff and child care professionals. This week, the state anticipated receiving a supply of around 130,000 doses of the approved vaccines from the federal government.

With this in mind, the state anticipates demand for the vaccine will continue to far outweigh supply as the program expands to include these new groups. Newly eligible residents are urged to be patient and recognize that most will not be able to schedule their appointment immediately due to limited vaccine supply.

Acting Public Health Commissioner Dr Deidre Gifford echoed Culbert, saying, “New appointments will become available each week and this will help reduce stress on the system in the early days of the roll out. We are all in this together, and we need to work together in order to get out of this pandemic as quickly as possible.”

To find the nearest available vaccination clinics and schedule an appointment, residents should visit ct.gov/covidvaccine and enter their zip code. From there they will receive instructions on how to schedule an appointment at each specific clinic.

Appointments can be scheduled online or by phone.

Those who do not have internet access can call Connecticut’s COVID-19 Vaccine Appointment Assist Line at 877-918-2224 any day of the week, from 8 am to 8 pm. The assist line, which is operated by the United Way of Connecticut, recently increased its capacity and is able to manage 1,050 calls at any one time.

If that number is exceeded, callers will hear a busy signal, indicating they will need to try again later. Staff at the assist line anticipate speaking with 10,000 callers per day, and once that capacity is reached, callers will hear a recorded message telling them to call back the next day.

After the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine was approved for emergency use, Governor Ned Lamont said he was informed by the federal government that Connecticut was expected to receive 30,000 doses.

“The addition of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is big news in our efforts to speed up distribution,” Lamont said. “We were already anticipating 100,000 doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines next week. With the expected approval of this third vaccine by the FDA, our total dose allocation next week will increase to 130,000, and that amount should continue to grow each week going forward.”

US Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said last week’s authorization of this new Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a tremendous victory for science and another valuable tool in the arsenal in the fight to crush this virus.

“It is an incredible tribute to the researchers and support staff that we now have three highly effective vaccines — dramatically increasing the number of Americans who can now be protected from COVID-19. For the first time, we have a single-shot vaccine that can be stored at standard refrigeration temperatures, a significant advancement for public health,” Blumenthal said. “The science is clear: If every American received any of these three approved vaccines, we could end the pandemic. It is now more than ever incumbent upon Congress to act quickly to ensure that these shots get into the arms of the American people as soon as possible.”

Marcia Cavanaugh, on the right, smiles toward Eileen Lapointe during the receiving for the Society of Creative Arts of Newtown’s winter/spring exhibition Monday afternoon. Artists were invited to deliver their works for the first show of the year at Newtown Municipal Center, with COVID-19 guidelines firmly in place. Lapointe was serving as a runner on Monday, and was about to place one of Cavanaugh’s oil paintings into the exhibition. —Bee Photo, Hicks
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