COVID cases soar in Connecticut, Greenwich High starts winter break early

Connecticut coronavirus update
GREENWICH, Connecticut (WABC) -- Cases of COVID-19 fueled by the omicron variant are surging in Connecticut, prompting one high school to begin its winter recess early.

Greenwich Schools Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones emailed families Tuesday to announce the decision, made in collaboration with the district's health advisors.

"The difficult decision has been made for Greenwich High School to start the December Recess tomorrow (Wednesday) due to a sharp rise in COVID-positive cases," she wrote. "As well as a shortage of non-teaching staff, including custodians."

She said the district has reported 114 cases this week, many from high school students and staff.

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The positivity rate in the state is nearly 9%, which Governor Ned Lamont says is the highest since major testing started last year.

An additionally 3,366 cases were reported Wednesday, and 821 patients are hospitalized -- quadruple the number of patients just since last month.

Greenwich Hospital has seen the surge as well. Two weeks ago, there were eight patients hospitalized with COVID. Today, that number stands at 19.

Lamont said 90% of Connecticut residents have been vaccinated but admitted the virus has a strong grip on parts of the Northeast.

"It's a perfect storm," he said. "We had blast of Delta coming down from the North. You know, you saw Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts on fire. Omicron coming up from the South. New York has a higher infection rate right now. New Jersey is even higher still, and I'm afraid Connecticut is in the middle, and that's why you see the infection rate that you do. But again, the good news is, you get the booster and you're safe."

Lamont said the number of COVID-19 testing locations and hours of available testing will expand over the next week or more, and while there are currently about 400 state and private testing locations across the state, seven more state sites will be added to the mix -- including a new saliva testing site on the New Haven Green that's scheduled to open this week.

"We're expanding the hours of many of our sites to make it easier for you, before work and after work," Lamont said. "We're adding on additional sites. I've had good conversations with the pharmacies. They are going to be expanding testing as well."

Dr. Manisha Juthani, the state's public health commissioner, said the health care company Sema4 has agreed to continue providing testing services at sites across Connecticut through the end of January, giving the state some more time to find replacement vendors after Sema4 announced it was ending its COVID-19 testing program.

"We had competitively bid for vendors who are ready and willing to pick up those sites," Dr. Juthani said.

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With the seven new locations coming online, new vendors will be needed for 30 state-run testing sites across Connecticut.

Stamford-based Sema4, whose investors include a venture capital firm run by Lamont's wife, Annie, recently told its investors and state officials that it planned to drop its COVID-19 testing in mid-January and return to its core business, genomic testing.

Meanwhile, to help ease the demand for testing services, Lamont announced there will be a temporary two-week "pause" on the enforcement of vaccination mandates for certain unvaccinated workers who undergo testing in order to comply.

The short enforcement hiatus does not affect hospital workers or employees in congregate settings such prisons, where testing will still be made available.

"For all the others, office workers, educators, many of whom are going to be on vacation for some of the next two weeks anyway, we're going to pause enforcement," said Josh Geballe, Lamont's chief operating officer. "What we expect that will do is free up a little bit of additional capacity for other residents of the state who are actually symptomatic or who are exposed so they can have a little bit quicker access to testing."

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