Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont is ordering nursing home workers and contractors who have significant contact with residents to get a vaccine booster shot by Feb. 11, noting the state's increasing COVID-19 infection rate among staff.
The move comes as federal health officials are pressing nursing home workers around the country to get their booster shots amid a spike in COVID-19 cases and a concerning lag in booster vaccination.
The Democratic governor signed two executive orders Thursday evening requiring boosters for employees at long-term care facilities, including assisted living and residential care homes, as well as the 3,600 state employees at state-run chronic care hospitals, such as Connecticut Valley Hospital and Whiting Forensic Hospital.
Facilities that fail to comply face a possible $20,000 per day civil penalty.
Meanwhile, the Connecticut Hospital Association announced it was amending its statewide mandatory vaccination policy for hospital and health system workers and clinical staff, requiring them to also get a booster shot. Other private hospital systems elsewhere in the U.S., including in the Boston area, have required the additional dose.
Connecticut is among the first states to impose such a mandate for nursing home employees. In California, roughly 2.5 million health care workers have until Feb. 1 to get a coronavirus vaccine booster shot or risk losing their jobs. New Mexico has also required workers in certain categories to receive a booster shot.
New data released Thursday show there were 2,148 staff cases of COVID-19 from Dec. 22 to Jan. 4, up from 242 from Dec. 8 to Dec. 21. Meanwhile, the number of resident cases increased from 136 to 829 over the same period. There were 26 resident deaths over the past month but no staff fatalities.
About 28% of nursing home staff have so far received the extra dose while, on average, about 35-to-45% of hospital workers have gotten boosters, officials said Thursday, noting how rates differ by facility.
Lamont predicted “dramatic dividends” will result from requiring nursing home workers and others to get a third dose. Booster clinics are expected to be held at the various facilities, similar to clinics held for nursing home residents just before the recent holidays.
“That would open up capacity in our hospitals make it easier for us to transfer people from the hospitals into the nursing homes,” said Lamont, who also suggested Thursday he's interested in possibly requiring visitors to nursing homes to be vaccinated or tested.
Dr. Deirdre Gifford, a health adviser to Lamont and the Department of Social Services commissioner, said employees affected by the governor's new executive order will not have the ability to take a test as an alternative.
Meanwhile, a long-term care industry executive said there are discussions about possibly reinstating the state's so-called COVID-only nursing homes, where hospital patients recuperating from COVID-19 were sent before returning to their regular nursing homes to help prevent the spread of infection. But Mag Morelli, president of LeadingAge Connecticut, said Thursday that the lack of available staffing makes the prospect challenging.
“It’s difficult right now to staff a nursing home. It would be difficult to start to staff a brand-new nursing home,” she said. “So that idea is there, but it just has not come forward to fruition yet.”
On Thursday, the state Department of Public Health issued guidance for discharging hospitalized patients to post-acute care settings, including nursing homes, during the pandemic. According to the guidance, “Hospitalized patients should be discharged from acute care whenever clinically indicated, regardless of COVID-19 status.” The state's instructions come as some hospitals are seeing rising caseloads.
Matt Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities and the Connecticut Center for Assisted Living, said facilities are still able to refuse patients if they can't meet the person's needs due to staffing challenges and that his members “don’t view the memo in any way as requiring nursing homes to accept COVID-positive admissions from a hospital setting.”