The high-water mark for COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Yale New Haven Health System, which includes Greenwich and Yale-New Haven hospitals, was four months ago during the second wave of the pandemic, said the hospital chain’s CEO, Marna Borgstrom at a news conference on Wednesday.
Hospital officials and Greenwich’s town selectmen also talked about how the vaccination project is going, the COVID-19 variants present in Connecticut, described registration for vaccinations and said the dangers from the vaccines are minimal.
— This article was first published by GreenwichFreePress.com.
Pandemic Ebbs: ‘Vaccines Are Working’
On Dec. 8 the system had 447 COVID-positive patients.
As of Wednesday, the system was down to 165 patients, with 44 in ICU and fewer than half of them on ventilators.
That breaks down as 197 at Yale New Haven Hospital, 43 at Bridgeport, 11 at L+M, 11 at Greenwich Hospital, 2 at Westerly.
Nearly 10,000 people have been discharged after being admitted with COVID-19. Sadly, over 1,000 people have lost their lives to COVID-19 within the system.
Borgstrom said admissions of patients over 75 had declined for the last four straight weeks.
“Those were the first people eligible,” Borgstrom said, of people age 75+, adding that with people 65+ being vaccinated, they were seeing a similar trend.
“The great news is the vaccines are working,” she said.
Expect the death rate to keep dropping, said Dr. Tom Balcezak, the chief medical officer for the system.
“Remember that the single biggest factor that leads to mortality in COVID-19 is age,” he said. “We expect that there will be a large drop in mortality rate as these elderly are no longer at risk.”
Borgstrom said the system had not seen any COVID-19 positive patients coming in who had been vaccinated.
More Vaccinations, More Availability
Balcezak said that to date more than 100,000 individuals had been vaccinated within the system. They are on track to do about 12,000 a week, but could scale it up with greater allocation.
“Those are staggering statistics I don’t think anyone would have believed,” he said.
Balcezak said that on Friday the system will open up availability to people age 45+ on Friday.
He said each time a new age bracket becomes eligible for the vaccine the health system’s call centers see an enormous spike. In response the system has added servers to their web presence.
“We haven’t crashed our website, but we do run out of appointments. We ask folks to stay patient. We are going to be able to accommodate everyone … Keep checking back. Look at the other sites in the state of Connecticut that are vaccinating.”
Balcezak said that in Connecticut the B117, “the UK variant,” is becoming the prominent variant, and that to his knowledge there has been very little of the South African variant and almost none of the Brazilian variant.
As for news that that some countries are suspending the AstraZeneca vaccine out of concern it might correlate to blood clots, Balcezak said that company had yet to file an application with the FDA for emergency use.
Balcezak said the best way to shut down the creation of new variants and the spread the old is to get vaccinated.
Vaccine Risk ‘Essentially Zero’
Asked how long immunity will last from the vaccines, Balcezak said, people involved in clinical trials will be followed for many years. The people who were vaccinated in clinical trials about a year ago still have immunity.
“We know that the risk [from] getting the vaccine is essentially zero,” Balcezak said. “More than 75 million people in the U.S. have been vaccinated.”
Asked about misinformation spreading that the vaccine will modify a person’s genes, Balcezak said: “Let me be very clear on this. There is no scientific plausible mechanism for this vaccine to alter anyone’s genes. It just simply isn’t possible.
“It’s a small piece of genetic material that, once injected into your body, degrades very quickly. It gets into your cell, makes a protein and then degrades. It cannot be inserted into your genome. That is a fact.”
Balcezak said he believed herd immunity was achievable. “This is a snowball rolling and it will pick up more snow as it rolls.”
Until Heard Immunity Comes, Wear Masks
Balcezak said that conversations are now turning to when it will be possible to visit friends and family, to share meals and visit places previously closed or restricted.
“We’re close to the finish line in this marathon,” he said, adding that it was still important to abide by public health guidelines. “It is up to us. Government can only do so much. The citizens also have some responsibility.”
Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo suggested people who have been vaccinated continue to wear their masks when they can’t keep a distance of 6 feet, “until we have that herd immunity.”
Dana Marnane from Greenwich Hospital agreed: “People need to continue to mask, even if you’re vaccinated. We haven’t changed here in the hospital. Outside of our offices, we are fully masked. Social distancing, masks and hand washing are still critical until we hit that herd immunity.”
Staff at Hospitals Getting Vaccinated
The Yale-New Haven Health System is approaching 75% of its staff being vaccinated. “We’re getting close to that community immunity number for our employees, and they expect that in the next week or two they’ll hit 80%.
The health system plans to open pop-up clinics for the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine for its employees, some of whom said they’d been waiting for that specific vaccine.
J&J has been collaborating with Merck to scale up production of that vaccine and Balcezak said they expect to be allocated a lot more of that single dose vaccine, and “get folks vaccinated quickly.”
Getting the Vaccine to Minorities in CT
The health system continues outreach to vulnerable neighborhoods, communities of color across the state, people who may not be able to navigate the sign up process, and people who may not be able to get to the mass vaccination sites.
They have also opened pop-up vaccination sites, including one at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bridgeport on Monday and one set for Thursday at the Shiloh Baptist Church in New London.
Also, he said door-to-door efforts have been helpful.
After mostly white suburban people were being vaccinated at the system’s Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven during the initial weeks, Balcezak said prioritization is now given to people who live in those surrounding neighborhoods.
To determine priority, they use information including addresses, zip codes and phone numbers. Also, he said the system’s healthcare workers in those neighborhoods are actively soliciting individuals from those neighborhoods.
“We are getting 800 to 1300 vaccinations in arms per day at Floyd Little, which is 3,000 to 4,000 doses per week,” he added. “We could increase that number by 100% (with increased allocation.)”
That mass vaccination site has 21 vaccination stations, but due to allocations they are not yet all operational.