Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont held his last regular COVID-19 briefing for the media on Thursday, a sign that he and his administration believe the state is well on its way to finally emerging from the pandemic.
But Lamont said he wasn't proclaiming “mission accomplished" after about 15 months of giving regular, televised updates. He warned there could still be some flare-ups of infections, especially with variants of the virus, in parts of the state where vaccinations have lagged such as eastern Connecticut and some urban areas.
“So that’s why we are not taking our foot off the accelerator when it comes to getting everybody vaccinated,” he said.
Also, new data released Thursday shows there continues to be racial disparities in vaccine distribution in the state. Fifty-nine percent of white residents have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 36% of Black residents, 41% of Hispanic residents, 45% of American Indian/Alaskan residents and 58% of Asian/Pacific Islander residents.
But the Democratic governor said the state's infection numbers are “where we want them to be.” Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases in Connecticut has decreased by 219.7, a decrease of 59.8%, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins. Meanwhile, only one community on Thursday, Putnam, was listed in the red alert zone for infections, the highest of the state's four alert levels.
No COVID-related deaths were reported over the past week in nursing homes, although there were six confirmed infections among residents and six confirmed infections among staff.
Statewide, three more COVID-associated deaths were reported since Wednesday, for a total of 8,230 people. While that death count is the 22nd highest in the country overall, it's the seventh highest per capita. Officials on Thursday attributed that ranking to Connecticut being hit early on during the pandemic, when little was known about COVID-19; Connecticut's aging population and how the state counts more deaths as COVID-related than other states.
“We were hit hard early and we learned quickly," Lamont said. "And you’ll see after that surge ... we outperformed over the course of the next ten months.”
Lamont was joined on Thursday by some of his star COVID-19 advisors, including Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner and a Connecticut resident. Gottlieb said the state may have to deal with the coronavirus again in the fall or winter, but predicted it will be better prepared given the amount of immunity in the population, through vaccinations and prior infections, and the fact more is known about COVID-19.
Also, he said Connecticut's population is “more cautious,” noting how people are generally more aware of the risk of respiratory pathogens spreading. He said that bodes well for the state as COVID-19 continues.
“The risks are going to persist, obviously, but I think that the summer is going to be relatively quiet,” he said. “And I think we’re going to have an enjoyable summer with very low infection levels.”
Gottlieb, who sits on Pfizer's board of directors, predicted that residents age 65 and older will likely get vaccine booster shots, possibly this fall, considering many were first vaccinated in January and February of 2021. Meanwhile, Dr. Albert Ko, a Yale epidemiologist and advisor to Lamont, said more will be learned over the next few months about whether booster shots will be necessary, marveling at how the vaccines are more effective than first thought.
Lamont’s media briefings on the pandemic, like those held by other governors, most notably New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, were especially popular during the height of the pandemic among members of the public. Almost daily in the beginning, and twice a week in recent months, Lamont, members of his administration and guests provided updates on new infections, deaths, hospitalizations, business closure and reopening plans, and vaccinations efforts.