Gifford to Lead Department of Health Through the Pandemic, Says Lamont Spokesperson

The Connecticut Department of Public Health has been without a permanent commissioner since May, and will continue to be led by Acting Commissioner Deidre Gifford until after the pandemic, the Governor’s Office said in a statement on Thursday to Connecticut Examiner.  Gov. Ned Lamont removed former commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell eight months ago and replaced her with Gifford, who was then and still serves as commissioner of the Department of Social Services. At the time, Lamont said she would lead both departments simultaneously while his administration performed a nationwide search for a new permanent commissioner.  Today, House Republican Leader Vinent Candelora

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Religious Exemption Sparks Debate Over Process on the Public Health Committee

The legislature’s Public Health Committee today received a petition with 10,000 signatures asking that legislators postpone consideration of a bill that would remove the religious exemption for children’s immunizations until they are able to hold a public hearing in person.  In an email to State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, that was shared with Connecticut Examiner, Katherine Kraemer, a signatory of the petition, said that having a virtual hearing on this bill “produces many challenges that impede a public’s right of full engagement in a fair legislative process.”  Those concerns include poor internet connections, access for people who didn’t know how

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Lamont Announces Phases for COVID Vaccinations

Gov. Ned Lamont announced today that phase 1B, which encompasses over 1.3 million Connecticut residents, would be broken down into a series of tiers that prioritizes the people who are at the highest risk of dying from the virus.  According to the timeline presented today at the governor’s press conference, individuals 75 and older continue to be first in line. The governor said he was expecting this group to have received their first doses within the next two weeks.   Lamont said that people over the age of 75 comprise eight percent of the population, but account for 71 percent of

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After Fast Start, Connecticut Broadens Vaccinations with Uncertain Distribution

As phase 1B of the vaccine rollout is set to begin today, regional health officials have been voicing frustrations over the last week at the uncertainty surrounding the number of vaccines that they will receive on a weekly basis, a problem which they hope will stabilize as the state administers the vaccine to a much broader population. This phase includes 1.367 million people, according to a presentation given by Benjamin Bechtolsheim, the current director of the COVID-19 vaccination program, to the Governor’s Vaccine Advisory Group on Thursday. Included in Phase 1B are frontline essential workers, all individuals 64 and over,

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Opioid Bill Pairs Doctors and Recovering Addicts in Push Statewide

State Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, introduced a bill in the state legislature to expand the use of peer “recovery navigators” — individuals who have recovered from opioid addiction and now assist others in the community still using the drug — as a method to address opioid addiction in towns across Connecticut. The legislation is based on the New London CARES program which was started in 2016 and which brings together medical doctors who specialize in addiction and navigators who know the community. The result is a comprehensive approach to opioid addiction, which McCarty hopes can help prevent overdoses.  “I’d be

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As Lamont Holds Line on Vaccinations, Advocates Question Omission of Type 1 Diabetes

“This has been a really terrifying time for people with Type 1 diabetes,” said John Kleinhans, a Type 1 Diabetic and the advocacy chair of the Greater Connecticut Chapter of JDRF, a Type 1 Diabetes research and advocacy group.  The organization wrote an open letter to Gov. Ned Lamont on Wednesday arguing that Type 1 Diabetes patients should be included in the current phase of the vaccine rollout.  In a meeting on Tuesday, Connecticut’s Vaccine Advisory Group allocation subcommittee recommended that Phase 1b include adults 65 and older, and residents with at least one health condition placing them at increased

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Conley Reintroduces Bill Increasing Access to Specialists for Medicaid Patients

State Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, is reintroducing a bill in the state legislature to make it easier for New London County residents with Medicaid to access medical specialists.  The bill is meant to fill in a gap that exists, said Conley, for individuals who need “a little more care than primary care, but not emergency care.”  She said the bill targeted at, as an example, a person with mild high blood pressure, or a diabetic, or someone needing follow-up care after a surgery more specialized than they can receive at a Community Health Center. And not all private practices or

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Republican Legislators See Role in Distribution of Federal COVID Funds

As the state legislature reconvenes amid a continuing pandemic, Connecticut Republican legislators are raising questions over who should be responsible for the allocation of any additional Coronavirus relief funds that may come down from the federal government.  According to State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, some legislators are considering a bill that would place a certain amount of existing and future Coronavirus federal relief money under the control of the state legislature.  State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said that no matter where the funding ends up being spent, the critical point was that the legislature should be able to have

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Connecticut Health Policy Project Director Weighs in on Needed Reforms

Ellen Andrews has served on over a dozen health policy committees in Connecticut. If it were up to her, they would all be eliminated.  “The best thing Connecticut could do is do away with all its committees and boards and task forces,” said Andrews.  Andrews has been the director of the non-profit Connecticut Health Policy Project, which publishes research and briefs about Connecticut healthcare policy, since it was founded in 1999. She also serves on the state Medical Assistance Program Oversight Council, which advises on Connecticut’s Medicare Program, and the Health Care Cabinet for the state Office of Health Strategy,

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Uncertain Supply, Limited Shelf Life Leaves Officials Scrambling to Administer COVID Vaccine

As Connecticut begins vaccinations for COVID-19, state and local officials are coping with the vaccine’s limited shelf life, and an unpredictable supply, as they work to immunize high-risk workers and nursing home residents first. The limited shelf life of the vaccines – six hours once the vial is open – means that health departments left with excess doses must quickly find an alternate or lower-priority person to vaccinate, or let the doses go bad. That’s the position Middletown found itself in when it was left with ten excess doses over two days of administering the vaccine to city firefighters last

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Contrasting Solutions as Pandemic Adds Urgency to High Insurance Costs in Connecticut

Democratic and Republican state legislators are offering very different proposals on how to deal with one of the more pressing issues facing the legislature in January: the rising cost of health insurance.  Their proposals are not new. The cost of health insurance was a topic of debate long before the pandemic hit, but lawmakers from both parties agree that the pandemic has added urgency, and pushed government solutions to the forefront of what some until recently have treated as largely a personal problem. “If your neighbor doesn’t have health insurance, that affects you,” said State Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, who

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Groups Press Lamont to Allow Medical Assistants to Administer Vaccinations

The Hartford and Fairfield County Medical Associations are asking Gov. Ned Lamont to draft an executive order that would allow medical assistants to administer vaccinations.  In the letter from the Fairfield County Medical Association, the association’s president, Craig Olin, said that allowing medical assistants to administer vaccinations would help address the anticipated demand for the COVID vaccine.  “We anticipate that medical practices in Fairfield County and across the state will be deluged with requests for the vaccine,” read the letter.   Mark Thompson, executive director of the Hartford and Fairfield County Medical Associations, echoed this, saying that having medical assistants perform

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Small Gyms and Large Chains Make a Case as Healthy Outlets During the Pandemic

As the public debates the role that gyms may play in the spread of COVID-19, small local fitness centers are saying that their businesses are fundamentally different than large chains, as large chains assure the safety of their members. “Not all gyms are created equal,” said Sharon Marr, manager at UP Fitness, a privately-owned gym in Stonington.  At the start of the pandemic, Marr said, UP Fitness had to completely change its business model. They relocated to a much smaller facility and reduced their services to private classes of 10-15 people and one-on-one personal training. During the summer, they held

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Towns offer Health District ‘Verbal Commitments’ to 10 Percent of Announced Aid

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Ledge Light Director of Health Stephen Mansfield told CT Examiner on Saturday that he had secured a “verbal commitment” from nearly all of the 9 municipalities in southeast Connecticut served by the regional health district to share 10 percent of recent federal funding to be distributed among the municipalities. Gov. Ned Lamont had announced, in a Thursday press conference, that the state’s Office of Policy and Management would distribute the $45.5 million of federal CARES funding within the week. The announcement did not direct funding to health districts. Mansfield said that increased staffing costs, and state subsidies amounting to just

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Data Suggest Little Difference in COVID Rates Between Remote, In-Person and Hybrid Instruction

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According to Department of Education data, public school students in Connecticut are nearly as likely to test positive for COVID-19 if they study remotely, as students learning in person or in a hybrid model. In-person students made up for 29 percent of total students across the state as well as 29 percent of reported student cases, meaning they did not make up for a disproportionate number of confirmed COVID-19 infections. The state has reported just over 7,000 positive cases among students since the start of the school year.  Students in hybrid learning models were slightly more likely to report COVID-19

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Private Medical Practices Shutter as COVID Compounds Business Pressure in Connecticut

Running a private medical practice in Connecticut has likely never been easy, but now there are signs that pandemic pressures may have hastened some practices to shutter.  Mark Thompson, the executive director of Fairfield and Hartford County Medical Associations, said that since the pandemic began, his association has fielded a higher number of calls from physicians asking for names of consultants to evaluate and negotiate the sales of their practices. According to Thompson, most cited the pandemic as the last straw. The doctors were unable to sustain themselves financially, and, in some cases, weren’t even able to obtain the necessary

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Lamont Outlines Expected Timeline for COVID Vaccinations

In a Thursday afternoon press conference, Gov. Ned Lamont, alongside the co-chairs of his vaccine advisory group, laid out his plan for statewide vaccine distribution. The first doses of Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines are set to arrive in Connecticut on December 14 and December 21, respectively, and pending FDA approval, the state plans to administer those vaccines in two phases.  The first part of phase one, starting as soon as vaccines arrive, will include the state’s 200,000 healthcare workers, 22,000 nursing home residents, and 6,000 medical first responders. The state anticipates all residents in those categories who choose to be

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Pharmacies Dial Back Free COVID Tests

Pharmacies including Walgreens and CVS locations, that until recently offered free COVID tests, are now charging for the service. Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso said the company is offering COVID-19 testing at no cost to eligible patients with most insurance and government assistance plans. He said when the company started taking insurance information varied by location, and that the company is providing the cost information in the event a health plan may not cover a test. “Patients should not have any out-of-pocket costs, but we recommend they check with their health plan before scheduling a test,” Caruso said. CVS currently advertises

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Steep Fines Met with Mixed Response Before the Holidays in Connecticut

Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order yesterday increasing fines from $500 to $10,000 for COVID-related violations which include exceeding capacity limits, failing to wear masks and operating after the 10 p.m curfew. The steeper fines — which go into effect at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow — were met with a mixed response from local leaders contacted by CT Examiner. “We want to do everything we can to mitigate the further spread of this virus while avoiding the implementation of more restrictions or lockdowns on our already hard-hit economy and small businesses,” the Governor explained in a press release. According to

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As COVID Cases Surge, Connecticut Resists Rollback

The state reported today that 145 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities have been classified as “high alert” zones, turning Connecticut’s latest COVID map nearly solid red. Gov. Ned Lamont referred to the numbers as “disturbing.” He said that Connecticut had conducted 36,000 tests this week and added 60 additional testing sites.  The state reported a 6.5 percent positivity rate, with a seven-day rolling average of 5.8 percent. Hospitalizations and deaths have also increased. Twenty-four more hospitalizations and 21 deaths were reported today. “A lot of people think, this time around, it’s safer,” said Lamont. “No. Twenty-one fatalities in the last day

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Connecticut Launches Contact Tracing Pilot at State Universities

State universities in Connecticut have joined the pilot program for a contact-tracing app that state officials hope all residents of the state can download beginning next week.  The app, which was developed through a collaboration between Apple and Google, uses Bluetooth technology to track and notify people when someone close to them has tested positive for the virus.  The universities began testing the app last Friday, according to Leigh Appleby, director of communications for Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education. He said in an email that, while he didn’t know yet how many people had signed up, the colleges

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Lamont Announces Partial Rollback of Reopening

Gov. Ned Lamont announced a statewide rollback to phase 2 beginning on Friday, Nov. 6.  “Right now, what were defined as flare-ups on a municipal basis are becoming more like community spread,” said Lamont.  Connecticut’s positivity rate for the past seven days is 3.6 percent, with 340 current hospitalizations due to the virus. Lamont said he was concerned about making sure that hospitals would have the capacity to both treat COVID patients and take care of patients with other ailments. Lamont also referenced reaching with regional neighbors, such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Last Wednesday, Rhode Island’s Governor Gina Raimondo

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Help Navigating Medicare Open Enrollment

The annual Medicare Open Enrollment Period is here once again and if you’re a Medicare recipient you have until December 7th this year to review your plan for the upcoming year. By now you should have received your Annual Notice of Change letter in the mail informing you what changes will be happening to your current Medicare Plan from your provider. “This is a very important letter to read and understand,” says Laura Crews, director of benefits access at Senior Resources Agency on Aging based in Norwich.  “It’s going to explain the changes your current drug plan will be undertaking.

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Connecticut Beefs Up Contact Tracing as Public Moves Indoors

Connecticut is bolstering contact tracing efforts at the state and local levels in an effort to limit the recent outbreak of COVID-19 cases, particularly across the southeastern portion of the state. The state Department of Health has contracted with the San Diego-based firm AMN Healthcare to provide the state with a local workforce trained in contact tracing methods. Contact tracing is a process of identifying and reaching out to close contacts of someone diagnosed with a communicable disease. The tracers inform contacts about quarantine requirements, review a list of symptoms and connect individuals with any services they might need.  According

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Hartford Healthcare Reaches Tentative Agreement with Nurses at Backus

NORWICH — Nurses at Backus Hospital have reached a tentative agreement with management over a new four-year contract that will increase wages to a level comparable to other hospitals in the area. The agreement was reached after more than twenty negotiating sessions that culminated in a two-day nurses’ strike on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week.  According to the contract, nurses at Backus will be paid wages comparable to their counterparts at Windham Hospital, also owned by Hartford Healthcare, by the third year of the contract. Wages for a starting nurse at Backus will immediately increase from the current $29.59

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Southeast Connecticut Towns Report 9 of 11 COVID Hotspots

Gov. Ned Lamont announced on Tuesday that he will allow municipalities with high numbers of COVID cases to choose whether to rollback reopening from phase three to phase two — a notable change from his earlier insistence that coronavirus policies and restrictions should be kept to a statewide level.  The governor signed an executive order authorizing the change after announcing a 2.4 percent positivity rate for the state, the highest since June.  “Six months ago, when I said ‘Let’s work on a statewide basis,’ I didn’t want some communities saying ‘My bars can be open’ and others not,” Lamont said

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Hot Dry Weather Fostered West Nile, Reduced EEE Populations in Southeast Connecticut

A hot dry summer across Connecticut has increased the prevalence of mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus, but far fewer mosquitos have been identified as carrying the Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus than last year. Through Oct. 5, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has trapped 143 mosquitos that have tested positive for the West Nile Virus, compared to 82 it found through the end of its testing on Nov. 7 last year.  Last year, 122 mosquitos the station trapped tested positive for Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE). So far this year, they’ve found two – one trapped at Stonington High School on Aug.

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Added Nursing Staff Can Save Lives, Report Shows, But Cost Remains a Hurdle

A higher ratio of staff to residents correlated in the first six months of the pandemic to fewer cases of COVID-19 in nursing homes across Connecticut according to a recent review by Mathematica of the state’s public health policy and practices. According to Mathematica’s final report published last week, the lower the ratio of staff hours to residents, the more the cases and deaths of COVID-19 in a nursing homes. “Staffing rating was highly predictive of the ability to limit the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes,” the report states. “Nursing homes with a high staffing rating (4 or 5

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Nurses at Backus Hospital Schedule a Two-Day Strike as COVID Cases Jump for Norwich Region

NORWICH — Nurses at Backus Hospital in Norwich are prepared to strike next week if the union and the hospital cannot come to an agreement over a new contract.  The Backus Federation of Nurses, part of the local AFT, gave notice on October 2 that the strike is scheduled to last from 7 a.m. on October 13 until 7 a.m. on October 15.  Sherri Dayton, president of the Backus Federation of Nurses, said that the negotiations had been “a nightmare.”  “Tonight’s negotiation will be negotiation number twenty,” said Dayton, who has been a nurse in Backus’ emergency department for 16

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Report Cautions Health Officials to Balance Safety from COVID with Isolation and Care Concerns for Nursing Home Residents

All policies have consequences was the theme of the final report conducted by Mathematica to review and analyze nursing home policies and practices during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic.  “This report gave us an evidence base to support the concerns that the policies came at a cost of the physical and emotional wellbeing of those who live in facilities,” said Patricia Rowan, project director and health services researcher at Mathematica in a presentation to legislators on Monday afternoon.  In other words, even if a policy is formulated with the best of intentions, and necessary to prevent one

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