In a given week, Uncas Health District staff will visit a minimum of three or four events and may administer the COVID-19 vaccine to two people per event, Director Patrick McCormack said — perhaps one person who was hesitant and one who wasn’t. is not getting the bivalent booster that came out for the Omicron variant.
This is a far cry from the days of scheduling 200 shots a day.
Now, local community health workers are incorporating COVID-19 into other public health strategies, offering flu and blood pressure shots as they go to places like the Franklin Senior Center, St. Vincent de Paul Square and Three Rivers Community “mobile health centers” College and Griswold High School. This is done with the help of a van purchased with dollars from the America’s Rescue Plan Act.
The health district covers Bozrah, Franklin, Griswold, Lebanon, Lisbon, Montville, Norwich, Preston, Salem, Sprague and Voluntown.
Three years after the pandemic began, the day-to-day operations of the two local health districts and the state Department of Public Health look very different, but staff are still working to prevent and mitigate COVID-19 — and apply lessons learned and resources added in the pandemic to other issues of public health.
As of Thursday, the state had reported 12,258 COVID-related deaths. There were 156 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 – although not necessarily due to COVID-19 – a decrease of 67 from the previous week.
The federal public health emergency expires on May 11, and health departments are still figuring out what it means for them. The Department of Health and Human Services says most insurance plans will fully cover COVID-19 vaccines, but “out-of-pocket costs for certain treatments may change” and private insurers will no longer be required to cover lab or home tests.
McCormack said that as part of a federal contract, Uncas has requested funding to buy more home-testing kits and should soon receive more to distribute to the public.
McCormack said Uncas Health District still has one full-time nurse and one part-time nurse funded through COVID-19 relief dollars, and now they are focused on connecting with people who are at home. and carrying out activities at events carrying the vaccine with them.
He still has regular meetings with municipal leaders in Norwich and Griswold, where he reviews the recommendations and data on COVID-19.
“What I’ve found is that I’m not just doing a COVID update,” he said. “When the norovirus started to peak, I updated this. When the flu season hit its peak, I updated this.’
He also said Uncas and Ledge Light Health District will take turns presenting to the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments at SCCOG meetings.
Ledge Light Deputy Health Director Jennifer Muggeo said now is an “interesting time to navigate” as public health officials because there is a shared desire to move beyond COVID and we’re in a good place right now with cases, but booster coverage is low and people in Connecticut are still facing serious illness and death from the coronavirus.
Ledge Light covers East Lyme, Groton, Ledyard, Lyme, New London, North Stonington, Old Lyme, Stonington and Waterford.
Muggeo said Ledge Light continues to work with Griffin Hospital, the Medical Reserve Corps and community pharmacies to make it easier for people to get vaccinated. Vaccines and boosters are available every Friday six months and older at the New London Public Library.
She said if people test positive, Ledge Light staff are available to talk about accessing treatment and protecting those they live with.
“The concept of contact tracing has kind of dissipated in terms of interviewing people in terms of who they’ve had contact with,” Muggeo said, and the focus now is more on being a source of information and support.
“One of our follow-up contacts is still having those conversations with people about COVID, but he’s also started to get involved in some of our work to reach out to families around childhood immunizations,” she said. “We still have to have the same types of conversations with people in our community when a child has an elevated blood lead level or when a child has a foodborne illness.”
Muggeo said staff is still learning what the end of the public health emergency will mean for community members and will then assess how staff can fill in any gaps.
Dr. Lynn Sosa, DPH’s acting staff epidemiologist, said much of what the department is looking at is how its activities will or will not change as the public health emergency ends. This includes discussion of data collection and reporting frequency.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s office released data on COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths each day earlier during the pandemic, until now only on Thursdays. Sosa said the state continues to report data to the CDC, which will not change.
One of the most important messages from DPH now is pushing people to get a bivalent booster. According to the CDC, as of March 8, 83.1% of the Connecticut population had received the initial series of two shots, but only 24.6% had received the bivalent booster.
DPH spokesman Chris Boyle said that especially since omicron, the department has been able to increase and decrease activities as needed.
“Part of what we’re trying to do is figure out how the work we’re doing on COVID-19 fits into our day-to-day work,” Sosa said, “because again, COVID-19 is not gone; it is here to stay.”