Gov. Ned Lamont on Monday cleared the way for pharmacists to administer any coronavirus vaccine authorized by the federal Food and Drug Administration, expanding the number of providers allowed to dispense doses as Connecticut prepares for its first batch of deliveries later this month.

The Democrat signed an executive order that authorizes licensed pharmacists to administer the COVID-19 vaccine under certain conditions. It also requires them to report information to the state Department of Public Health about any patients younger than 18 who receive a dose of influenza vaccine.

Connecticut expects the 16,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer to be administered to hospital workers beginning Dec. 14, while the first 16,000 for long-term care residents and staff will be administered beginning Dec. 21.

“We’ll be making weekly orders going forward, tracking carefully our ability to administer the vaccine, demand for the vaccine and the supply of the vaccine,” said Lamont, who hopes at least 90-to-95% of residents will ultimately be vaccinated in Connecticut.

Lamont's executive order also caps how much providers who are considered out-of-network by insurers may charge to administer COVID-19 vaccines, in order to ensure no one is required to pay out-of-pocket for a dose.

Since Friday, there have been more than 8,000 new positive cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut and 78 more COVID-related deaths, for a total of 5,224. Meanwhile, the number of hospitalizations have climbed by 33 to to 1,183 since Friday.

In other coronavirus-related news in Connecticut:

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PREPAREDNESS OFFICE

A group of Connecticut lawmakers announced Monday plans for legislation that would create a state Office of Pandemic Preparedness to focus on testing, emergency stockpiles and social services, while also encouraging the manufacturing of masks, gowns and other supplies within the state.

The goal is to be ready for the next pandemic.

“Now we need to focus on preparing Connecticut to survive and thrive in any future pandemic, and that means being more self-sufficient when it comes to PPE while growing and protecting jobs,” said state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, in a written statement.

Lamont said he believes he has already formed a preparedness group, noting his administration has formed a vaccination advisory group. And for months, his staff has been amassing a stockpile of PPE in order to prepare for future waves of COVID-19 infections. But Lamont said he's willing to discuss with the lawmakers about areas they believe are lacking.

The state legislators also plan to propose legislation in the new session, which is scheduled to begin on Jan. 6, that guarantees essential workers can receive rent and mortgage assistance and emergency benefits from the state's new Paid Family and Medical Leave program, as well as training for people who lose their jobs due to a pandemic. Other proposals would attempt to help small businesses and school districts.

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UCONN BASKETBALL

The UConn men’s basketball team has suspended team activities for a second time this fall following another positive coronavirus test in the program.

The school said the move will force the postponement of Friday’s home game against St. John’s. That was to have been the first Big East game for the Huskies (3-0) since returning to the conference after seven years in the American Athletic Conference.

The school said all team activities will be paused “until contact tracing and additional testing is completed and it is deemed safe by medical professionals to resume.”

The UConn men’s program had resumed team activities on Nov. 19 after a 14-day pause instituted when a player contracted the virus. The Huskies' last two scheduled games were cancelled last week after Vanderbilt and North Carolina State had positive coronavirus tests in their programs.

UConn has not yet postponed its game on Dec. 13 at Georgetown. The Huskies also have games scheduled in the next two weeks at Providence on Dec. 17 and at home against Creighton on Dec. 20. Meanwhile, the UConn women’s program is set to begin play on Saturday against UMass-Lowell after coming back from its own coronavirus-related shut down.