In anticipation of potential COVID-19 surges in the coming weeks, state officials and health experts are expanding the Hartford region’s hospital bed capacity.
The state National Guard and the Department of Public Health in partnership with Hartford HealthCare are reopening a 600-bed field hospital at the Connecticut Convention Center. They say this is a precautionary move as numbers of cases and hospitalizations continue to generally trend upward.
“Right now, we still have pretty good capacity, but let’s be prepared,” said Gov. Ned Lamont at a media briefing Wednesday.
State data show that 1,254 people are hospitalized with COVID-19. An estimated 77% of Connecticut’s inpatient hospital beds are occupied, for all medical reasons, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The alternative hospital site at the convention center was initially opened during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring, when as many as 1,972 people were hospitalized in late April.
Dr. Jim Cardon, chief clinical integration officer at Hartford HealthCare, said despite those high numbers, they ultimately didn’t have to use the field hospital. He hopes that’s the case this time around, too.
“Because the safest place for people to be is in the four walls of a hospital. This is really in that situation to where those aren’t options,” he said. “This is somewhat of an insurance policy to make sure we have capacity and don’t put people in harm’s way, where we’re so full that we can’t care for people.”
Cardon said health experts are concerned that upcoming holiday gatherings and pandemic “fatigue” may contribute to spikes in cases in the next several weeks.
“It’s a joyous time when they want to get together with families, and it’s very hard to continue to contain that,” he said. “However, masks, social distance, washing hands -- all of that stuff is critically important. And the best way to make sure that we don’t have to use this facility is for people to do those kinds of things that we know work to reduce the spread of this virus.”
The National Guard will begin setup on Friday. Hartford HealthCare will staff the alternative site and bring in all necessary electronic and medical equipment and supplies.
The beds will strictly be for patients who are recovering from COVID-19 but are not yet well enough to return home or to a community living facility. They may still need IVs, oxygen and other medical treatment but do not require ventilators or intensive care.
Any hospital in the region -- not just Hartford HealthCare sites -- will be able to transfer COVID-19 patients to the convention center in times of limited bed capacity.
Lamont said there is no need to reopen or create any other field hospital at this time.
Also on Friday, a small number of nursing homes will begin vaccinating its staff and residents early for COVID-19. Vaccine distribution at long-term care facilities through a federal partnership program with CVS and Walgreens was initially set to begin Dec. 21.
“I’m told that the feds found four states that they want to prioritize,” Lamont said. “Thankfully for us, Connecticut was one of those four states, so we did get the vaccine shipment a little earlier, and we’ve got Walgreens and CVS ready to go.”
More shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine are expected to arrive in Connecticut next week.
An independent advisory group is set to review Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine Thursday. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is likely to issue an emergency use authorization shortly after, and doses could start arriving in Connecticut as early as next week.