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Virus Cases Confirmed At Garner, Post Office As Local Infections Increase



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By the time this report is published, or very soon after, Connecticut will surpass the 65,000 mark of positive COVID-19 cases — nearly 22,000 of those have been reported in Fairfield County.

One of the latest individuals to test positive locally is employed at the main Newtown postal facility on Commerce Road, and three have been recently reported at the Garner Correctional Institution. The Newtown Bee confirmed the news of the cases with Garner and Postal Service officials late Wednesday, October 21.

Neither health nor postal officials can identify the individuals — or, in the case of the postal employee, whether they reside in town. But Newtown Health District Director Donna Culbert concurred with USPS officials that the positive case poses no threat to the public, and postal officials confirmed that all precautions and disinfection protocols are being followed at the facility and among workers.

As of October 20 at 8:30 pm, the total of COVID-19 cases reported among Connecticut residents is 64,871, including 62,261 laboratory-confirmed and 2,610 probable cases. Two hundred-thirteen patients were currently hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 at that time, and 4,567 COVID-19-associated deaths had been confirmed.

Fairfield County continues to lead the state in the number of positive related or suspected cases with 21,898, and 1,429 likely related deaths. The number of virus-related fatalities has held at 45 in Newtown for several weeks, although the case count of residents in town, including those incarcerated at Garner, has risen by nine and now totals 319.

USPS spokesperson Amy Gibbs told The Newtown Bee that federal privacy laws prohibit the Postal Service from providing specific medical information and/or other identifying information such as location of residence or gender of individual employees.

“In the case of Newtown, the Postal Service can confirm that it had one exposure and that the facility is in compliance with its required actions. We are working closely with employees inside our Newtown facility to assure all public health protocols are followed to ensure the well-being of our co-workers and our community,” Gibbs stated. “We continue to follow recommended strategies from the CDC and local health departments as the Postal Service monitors the COVID-19 situation on a nationwide basis.”

Gibbs went on to remind Newtown residents that the CDC and the Surgeon General have indicated that there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail. She added that the Postal Service has a robust process for internal employee notification and external collaboration with the appropriate public health officials specific to any given incident.

“Those officials are, in turn, responsible for the necessary contact tracing efforts that are needed based on information gleaned through their interview process,” Gibbs explained. “Public health officials are also responsible for community awareness when, and if, necessary based on their data collection about any confirmed positive tests.”

Health District Support

Culbert also said October 20 that her department was notified that it will receive $46,429 as part of a newly announced program of state support.

Earlier Wednesday, Governor Ned Lamont announced the approval of the first 21 local health districts and departments to receive a portion of $20 million in funding the state was allocated as part of the CDC’s Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity Cooperative Agreement.

Under the agreement, the funding is intended to be used by the local health districts and departments to:

*Enhance laboratory detection, surveillance (contact tracing), response, informatics, and other workforce capacity.

*Strengthen laboratory testing volume and capacity.

*Coordinate and engage with partners as needed to respond to and prevent COVID-19.

*Prevent and minimize disease transmission of COVID-19.

*Conduct health promotion activities associated with each of the previously mentioned activities.

“Ensuring the availability of these resources at the local level is critical to our response efforts,” Lamont said. “We know that our municipalities, health districts, and local service organizations know their communities best. Everyone in Connecticut should know that it’s safe to get tested — and if you need to stay home, we can support you, and our contact tracers are an important part of getting you what you need.”

“The best way to address the COVID-19 pandemic is neighborhood by neighborhood,” Lt Governor Susan Bysiewicz said. “Whether you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 or were in contact with someone who was, we are doing everything we can to make sure our contact tracers and community resource coordinators know your community and can address your needs as soon as possible.”

“Contact tracing is one of the most important pieces of our state and nation’s response to COVID-19,” Connecticut Public Health Acting Commissioner Dr Deidre Gifford said. “The public should know we will continue to enhance these efforts as much as possible, and that their information will always be protected. Everyone should feel comfortable answering a call from a contact tracer.”

The funding is being administered by the Connecticut Department of Public Health and will be distributed to each local health district and department over the course of three years. All of Connecticut’s 65 local health districts and departments will receive a portion of the $20 million based on per-capita and poverty levels for each jurisdiction.

Travel, Nursing Home Updates

On October 20, Lamont released a joint statement with Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey regarding the three states’ ongoing regional travel advisory.

“Our states have worked together successfully in combating this pandemic since the beginning and we’ll continue to do so,” the governors shared. “The travel advisory was designed to keep our respective states safe, with the understanding that we are a connected region, dependent on each other when it comes to commerce, education, and health care.

“We’re urging all of our residents to avoid unnecessary or non-essential travel between states at this time, but will not subject residents of our states to a quarantine if coming from a neighboring state,” the advisory continued. “New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have among the lowest infection rates in the country because we have based our approaches to controlling the spread on science and data, and we will continue to do so.”

Lamont directed his staff to reach out to their counterparts in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to discuss working out a similar approach with their respective states, but no further information was available at press time.

On Monday, the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living released a report showing nursing homes in the US could see a third spike of new COVID-19 cases due to community spread among the general population. The agencies represent more than 14,000 nursing homes and assisted living communities across the country that provide care to approximately five million people each year.

Recent data released by Johns Hopkins and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services show that with the recent spike in new cases in the general US population, weekly nursing home cases rose in late September for the first time in seven weeks after having dropped significantly throughout August and early September. According to Johns Hopkins, COVID-19 cases in the general US population rose by 62,139 cases per week in late September, correlating with an uptick in nursing home cases during the week of September 27.

As experts have repeatedly noted, COVID-19 cases in a surrounding community is a top factor in outbreaks in nursing homes. Dr David Grabowski, professor of health care policy, Harvard Medical School, recently stated, “The strongest predictor of whether or not we’ll see cases in [a particular setting] is community spread.”

As the weather cools and COVID-19 cases rise, state leaders have also become concerned about indoor visits. Gifford sent a memo earlier this month to nursing homes in New London County and other parts of eastern Connecticut — now considered hot spots due to an increase in cases — recommending they come up with their own mandates for visitor testing.

Such a policy could include either a community-based testing strategy, in which visitors get a test through their primary care provider or at a local clinic, or an on-site option, where facilities offer rapid tests at the door.

The state has issued no edict requiring visitor testing, saying the decision will be left up to the nursing home operators. Industry leaders support the testing and have also encouraged facilities to adopt their own policies.

CTMirror content by Jenna Carlesso is included in this report.

Still in full personal protective equipment after completing an appointment with a patient, Dr Laura Nowacki does a happy dance last Friday afternoon. Seated in front of Dr Nowacki, receptionist Nicole Kullgren tries to focus on her monitor inside the office of Newtown Center for Pediatrics on Queen Street.—Bee Photo, Hicks
Local health officials confirmed this week that three new COVID-19 cases were reported at the Garner Correctional facility, and one case at Newtown’s main postal facility on Commerce Road. —Bee file photo
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