An advisory group is expected to recommend to Gov. Ned Lamont which Connecticut residents should receive the next round of COVID-19 vaccinations, now that distribution is well underway for health care workers and for nursing home residents and staffers.

Dr. Deidre Gifford, the acting public health commissioner, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's immunization advisory committee's recommendation that frontline essential workers and people over age 75 be included in phase 1B will be the foundation for Connecticut's plan.

“They may opt to make some additions to that group. But I don’t want to speculate on what they’re going to advise until after they’ve met,” said Gifford, who expects Lamont will have the recommendations by Thursday. The group is scheduled to meet Tuesday.

State officials previously said they expected “critical” workers, those living in other congregate settings, adults over age 65 and high-risk people under age 65 would be eligible for vaccination in the phases between January and May, but the list had not yet been finalized.

Meanwhile, at least four assisted living facilities are expected to begin vaccinations next week, followed by several more the week afterward, according to a Department of Public Health spokeswoman. More than 7,400 people live in assisted living residences across Connecticut.

Lamont reiterated Wednesday he is pleased so far with the pace of vaccinations in Connecticut, despite news reports of a slow rollout in other parts of the country. He said that the state's more than 200 nursing homes are on track to complete their first round of shots by the end of next week and that everyone in the first phase, including hospital staff, frontline health care providers and nursing home residents and staff, should be fully vaccinated with the two doses “over the course of the next month or so.”

He said nearly 55,000 doses have been distributed so far in Connecticut, which Lamont said is the highest percentage of people vaccinated so far in the Northeast.

Josh Geballe, Lamont's chief operating officer, acknowledged, however, that it's going to become “increasingly challenging” to progress to phase 1B and beyond because there will be many more people to vaccinate and larger shipments of vaccine arriving in Connecticut. The state is working now to expand the number of vaccinators across Connecticut, bringing in retail pharmacies and others into the mix as eligibility for the vaccine expands.

Meanwhile, Gifford said she expects Connecticut to maintain its current COVID-19 testing infrastructure for the “foreseeable future,” until the majority of the population is vaccinated.

There have been nearly 1,700 probable or confirmed new COVID-19 cases reported to the state since Tuesday. While the number of hospitalizations declined by 59 to 1,167. The number of COVID-associated deaths increased by 40, for a total of 5,964 people.

In other coronavirus-related news in Connecticut:

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VIRUS VARIANT

While the U.S. in general does less genetic sequencing of virus samples than other developed nations to discover variants, such as the one circulating in England, Geballe said there's a “tremendous amount of sequencing capacity” in Connecticut with local institutions such as Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington.

“Connecticut is actually one of the real pioneers of the high sequencing innovations occurring in the last five to 10 years,” Geballe said.

He said many of the state's different testing partners use an instrument that can detect a marker for this particular strain of the coronavirus, which was confirmed Tuesday in California and is considered more contagious. Those without the equipment, Geballe said, will send positive samples to the state's laboratory. Ultimately, samples that meet the particular pattern can be sent to the local experts for genomic sequencing.

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NURSING HOME FUNDING

Lamont announced Wednesday that nursing homes in Connecticut will receive more government funding as they continue to operate amid a pandemic.

The Democrat said the latest package includes an additional $31.2 million in payments and Medicaid rate increases for nursing homes, continued funding for COVID recovery facilities and other assistance, including a yearlong deferral of $23.4 million that homes were scheduled to pay back to the state under an earlier arrangement.

This latest aid package is in addition to more than $150 million the state previously spent on nursing homes for COVID response.

“As we are dealing with a resurgence of the coronavirus statewide, we have taken action to mitigate a repeat of the first occurrence and reduce infections and spread in our nursing homes,” Lamont said in a statement. He noted that the cost to combat the coronavirus remains high and it's ”essential" to give the facilities the resources they need.

There are more than 200 licensed nursing homes in the state.

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YOUTH HOCKEY

Lamont joined the governors of Massachusetts, Maine, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Hampshire on Wednesday in extending the suspension of interstate youth hockey competitions for public and private schools and youth hockey leagues through at least Jan. 31, 2021. The prohibition will not affect interstate collegiate, professional, or U.S. national team hockey activities.

The regional suspension was originally scheduled to run through at least Thursday. But officials said they reassessed the need for continued restrictions on interstate sports activities after reviewing the latest COVID-19 data.