Cases continue to climb but it will be weeks before we see the full impact on our hospitals, according to one of Connecticut’s leading infectious disease experts.
“December is going to be a very difficult month,” said Dr. Albert Ko, chair of Yale’s School of Medicine.
Still, Ko said the strain is already being felt.
“What we’re seeing is these cases are growing every day. And, what we’re concerned about is the hospitalizations which are already increasing, how far they will grow,” Ko explained.
On a call with the Connecticut Hospital Association Thursday, Bristol Health’s Emergency Preparedness Director, Albert Peguero, said he learned that the surge is forecasted to continue through January.
“We don’t really know the exact numbers. We just know we’re anticipating a surge and it’s really in combination with what’s going on across the state with the governor’s red alerts, with flu season,” said Peguero.
Connecticut’s hospitalizations hit a high of 1,972 on April 22. They fell to 42 in August and as of Thursday, sat at 840.
Just this week, Bristol Hospital had 14 COVID patients, three short of its April high. It plans to double its capacity from 140 beds to 280 in anticipation of a second surge.
“With emergency preparedness, we say plan for the worst and prepare for the best so as an organization we’re preparing for that,” Peguero said when asked if the surge could top April’s.
Bristol Health reactivated its incident command team in September. It tightened its visitor's policy two weeks ago. However, Peguero said it never stopped planning for another wave, stockpiling PPE over the summer.
"During the first wave, we closed down a lot of our services and now that we know more we are better equipped to care for our community and continue services and not have to stop them,” he said.
Peguero said the biggest challenge at the beginning of the pandemic was the unknown.
“We’re seeing an increase in asymptomatic COVID cases so we’re looking at ways to protect our staff,” he said of the latest challenge.
Positivity Rates Are Misleading
There's been a lot of focus on Connecticut’s rising rate of positivity, the proportion of tests coming back positive, but Ko pointed out that number can be misleading especially when comparing today's data to the spring.
"We just didn't have enough tests, we had severe shortages in supply so we weren't testing enough people. We're in a much different situation now,” said Ko.
In early April, less than 30 tests were processed daily. At the time, the state urged people with symptoms to stay home and quarantine, saving those tests for those in most critical need. At that time, the state’s positivity rate was over 50%. Most of the people getting tested were those on the front lines or with serious medical conditions.
Now, Connecticut’s positivity rate, while on the rise, fluctuates between five and six percent as more than 33,000 tests are reported daily.
"That's about 50 to 60 times more than we were doing during the peak in April,” pointed out Ko.
Ko said it's the hospitalizations, a key metric used to determine the pandemic's path, that's most concerning. Hospitalizations often lag behind case numbers which means the worst may be yet to come.
Ko pointed to the pandemic's first wave in the spring.
“The state went under lockdown March 13. The peak in hospitalizations came a month later in April,” he said.
Ko said it’s going to be a dark December, but it doesn't have to stay that way until spring.
“I think a lot of that is going to depend on the ability of our population to maintain face masks, social distancing, and to avoid points of contact, gatherings and so forth,” he explained.