Roughly 277,000 Connecticut residents who are 75 years and older were allowed Thursday to begin making appointments online or via telephone for their COVID-19 vaccinations, with plans in the works to eventually phase in people 65 and older and anyone 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions that put them of greater risk of contracting the disease.
With reports of high call volume and busy website traffic on the first day of appointments on the state's platform, officials repeatedly urged people to remain patient, especially in the coming weeks and months as the newly expanded Phase 1B — the second phase of Connecticut's vaccination program — rolls out in different stages. The entire group is estimated to include more than 1.3 million people and it's unclear when people aside from those in the 75 years and older group can begin making appointments.
“This allocation strategy is limited by the number of doses that we have available,” said Dr. Deidre Gifford, acting director of the Connecticut Department of Public Health, noting the administration is hoping to get more shipments of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine as they ramp up production, as well as vaccine from other companies as they become approved.
“But we can only give out as many vaccines as we have doses,” she said.
If the state continues to receive vaccine shipments at the pace of roughly 50,000 doses a week, it would take until May to finish vaccinating Phase 1B. The rest of the public might not be vaccinated until the fall. The state is expecting a larger shipment next week, however officials said they're uncertain if they should expect such amounts to continue.
Vaccinations of the first people in Phase 1B are scheduled to officially begin on Monday. The vaccine will be prioritized for those 75 and older. As the state's supply grows and a significant number of those 75 and older are vaccinated, Gov. Ned Lamont said other people in Phase 1B will be allowed to begin making appointments. That includes certain frontline essential workers, people who work and live in congregate settings and those with certain medical conditions.
While state officials still need to prioritize others in Phase 1B, there are plans to focus especially on communities hit hard by the pandemic, including racial minorities.
In preparation for larger vaccine shipments, the state on Monday is also opening its first appointment-only mass vaccination site at Rentchler Field in East Hartford. COVID-19 testing and food donations will also be available.
So far, more than 160,000 people in Connecticut have received the vaccine during phase 1A, which began Dec. 14 and includes mostly healthcare personnel, residents and staff of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and medical first responders.
In other coronavirus-related news:
NURSING HOME REFORMS
Improved staffing and pay, as well as major renovations to aging facilities were among a host of recommendations made Thursday by a working group that's been examining how to improve conditions at Connecticut nursing homes and assisting living facilities in the wake of the pandemic.
The recommendations will ultimately be forwarded to various committees in the General Assembly, the governor and others who are considering reforms given the large numbers of COVID-19-related infections and deaths that have occurred in nursing homes in Connecticut and across the U.S.
“We want to make sure that this work does not go unnoticed,” said Adelita Orefice, senior adviser to the Department of Public Health commissioner.
The recommendations include requiring at least 4.1 hours of daily direct care per nursing home resident. The current minimum state requirement is 1.9 hours of nurse and nurse-aide hours per day, per resident. There was also a recommendation that lawmakers consider a special minimum wage for nursing home workers that's higher than Connecticut's standard minimum wage.
Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, who helped to lead a subcommittee that examined the needs of aging nursing home buildings, noted that many of the recommendations — such as replacing old HVAC systems to improve air flow — are very expensive. His subcommittee's report suggested various financial solutions, ranging from increased Medicaid reimbursement rates in order to leverage more federal funding, to creating loan programs for nursing home operators to help pay for renovations.
Winter sports that have been on hold for Connecticut high schools because of the coronavirus pandemic can soon began their seasons, with practices allowed next week and competitions on or after Feb. 8, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference said Thursday.
The plan approved by the Board of Control for the conference that oversees high schools sports in the state had been proposed weeks earlier when the winter season was postponed.
The sports that are sanctioned for the winter are boys and girls basketball, ice hockey, gymnastics and boys swimming.
The winter sports of wrestling, competitive dance and competitive cheer will be limited to small group conditioning and non-contact activities because they are considered by the Connecticut Department of Public Health as high-risk activities. Boys and girls indoor track teams will be limited to practice, with meets ruled out until March.
Like the fall sports season, the winter season will be shortened, with no state tournaments. A “tournament experience” will be allowed at local levels in late March. Practices had been scheduled to begin in November, with games starting on Dec. 7.
Associated Press writer Michael Melia contributed to this story.