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COVID-19: More Northwest Corner towns now in ‘red zone’

“My concern right now is with the holidays coming in, and socializing increasing.”  — Dr. Ajay Kumar, Hartford HealthCare

Hospitals in the region and the state have reported a spike in patients infected with COVID-19 as a growing number of communities reach red alert status due to rising cases.

As of Nov. 18, three patients were admitted for treatment of the novel coronavirus at Sharon Hospital, according to spokeswoman Marina Ballantine. In recent weeks the hospital reported zero infections among patients although there were several positive test results among staff.

At Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington, coronavirus-related admissions more than doubled, from six on Nov. 7 to 13 the following week, according to Dr. Ajay Kumar, executive vice president and chief clinical officer for the hospital’s affiliate, Hartford HealthCare. 

As of Nov. 19, 840 patients were hospitalized statewide with COVID-19, an increase of 24 cases in just one day.

96% of state under red alert

In the Northwest Corner as of Nov. 19, Kent, North Canaan, Salisbury, Goshen and Torrington had joined the 145 Connecticut towns and cities with the dubious distinction of being on COVID-19 “Red Alert” status, the highest of the state’s four alert levels.

 In response, state and regional leaders have increased the number of free testing sites in the region. 

Connecticut’s positivity rate, as of Nov. 19, was at 6.5%; about 96% of state residents are now living in red zones.

Communities are designated “red” when positive cases exceed 15 per 100,000 residents per day. 

While in the red, communities have the option of temporarily shutting down or limiting non-essential businesses; indoor and outdoor activities are subject to postponement; and residents are advised to limit non-essential trips outside the home. 

The burnout factor

At Charlotte Hungerford, Kumar pointed to several trends that he said are particularly concerning. “The rise in hospitalizations — and then there is the burnout factor,” among hospital staff, as well as staff infections from community spread.

In one month, the hospital went from treating one COVID-positive patient to 13 patients, six of whom were admitted in the past week, said the physician. 

“The rise in hospitalizations, it is concerning, no doubt it,” and it looks like the upward trend is going to continue as the winter months progress, said Kumar. “My concern right now is with the holidays coming in, and socializing increasing.” 

How this new surge of cases will compare to the pandemic’s peak last March, he noted, is anybody’s guess.

If there is a bright sign on the horizon, it is found in the fact that the COVID-19 mortality rate is lower than it was during the first wave of the pandemic, and the disease is no longer a total mystery to medical staff, said Kumar. 

Of the 13 patients now being treated, he noted, only one patient is on a ventilator. “This is a challenging time for health care, but I am confident we are managing it well.”

At Geer, some progress

The largest cluster of COVID in the region in October was at Geer Village Senior Community in North Canaan. 

According to a Nov. 13 update, testing had facility revealed no additional COVID-19 cases among staff or residents at Geer’s assisted living facility for the first time since the early fall outbreak occurred, which had claimed six lives and infected 35 residents and 15 staff. 

North Canaan was the first Northwest Corner community designated a “red alert” town; two weeks later it was downgraded; on Nov 19 it was back to red. 

Following the original spike in cases in North Canaan, the town offered free COVID-19 testing to capture any asymptomatic individuals and help contain community spread. 

Geer uses temporary staff to help with the additional care needs on campus during the pandemic, and one agency staff did test positive recently. 

“We do not believe this agency staff member exposed anyone else to the virus, however, we are taking every precaution to test, contact trace and identify anyone that may have been exposed,” according to the update.

Geer CEO Kevin O’Connell has said that he is looking forward to the time when the facility can go through 14 days (three test cycles) with no new cases. When that happens, Geer will ask the state Department of Public Health (DPH) to declare the outbreak ended on the campus.

“But we need to understand that the danger will persist beyond any all-clear notice,” the update noted.

At this point, there are no postive test results at Noble Horizons senior living community in Salisbury, according to Administrator Bill Pond. The facility remains wary and on the alert.

“We’re not naive enough to think it couldn’t happen here, and we’re prepared for it,” Pond said. 

Cases  in Kent, Cornwall

In Kent, four new cases of COVID-19 were reported on Nov. 10 by First Selectman Jean Speck, including two at the private South Kent School and two additional cases town-wide (no cases have been reported yet at Marvelwood and Kent School, both of which are private boarding schools). 

Speck said she suspected that Halloween activities triggered the outbreak. More cases are anticipated as students return home from college for the holidays. 

“I am concerned as we head into these last eight weeks of the year,” she said.

As of Nov. 18, statistics showed that Kent had a total of 28 confirmed cases. A report the same day from the Torrington Area Health District revealed that in November alone, 11 cases were reported in Kent, according to Speck. 

Drive-up testing was offered on Monday, Nov. 23, in the parking area of Kent Town Hall. Speck said she requested that the state offer additional testing for Northwest Corner residents in the coming weeks.

In Cornwall, the town’s Emergency Management Director Diane Beebe reported to the Board of Selectmen that the town had seven reported coronavirus cases from March through September, but saw a spike of six new confirmed cases in the past four weeks.

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