Members of an advisory town body that helps oversee New Canaan’s Health and Human Services Departments last week re-elected a prominent retired pediatrician as their chair. Dr. Harrison Pierce, who took on the role of chairing the Health & Human Services Commission weeks amid some controversy and weeks prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, was unanimously re-elected at the appointed body’s Jan. 5 meeting. Asked by Commissioner Peter Campbell to discuss his priorities for the next year, Pierce said the group would “continue pretty much as we are,” while also noting that the Commission also was seeking to define its role. “I know there are some varying sentiments,” Pierce said at the meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference.
Mask-wearing, after serving as the first line of defense during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, now serves as the second line of defense behind vaccines, according to the chair of the New Canaan Health & Human Services Commission.
A topic of much debate in New Canaan, the masks “are still important,” according to Dr. Harrison Pierce, a local pediatrician for more than four decades,
“We know how they function,” Pierce said during the Commission’s regular meeting Thursday, held via videoconference. “They filter the droplets, the aerosol, and they do this with varying degrees of efficiency,” from cloth masks to surgical masks and N-95 masks. “If you are uninfected and you are wearing a mask, you decrease the risk of getting COVID by about 67%, and if you are infected and wearing one you decrease of giving it to others by about 75%,” Pierce said. “And if you are both wearing it there is about a 92% decreased risk of getting sick with COVID.”
The comments came during a a discussion on mask-wearing that Pierce said he added to the appointed body’s agenda after hearing from State Rep. Lucy Dathan (D-142nd) and Commissioner Jenn Hladick on whether the Commission had a position with respect to masks.
The issue has made headlines recently, as Gov. Ned Lamont has asked the state legislature to extend his executive powers, including with respect to an order in which the governor empowers the Department of Public Health commissioner to set rules about what types of buildings require mask-wearing (including schools). In New Canaan, parents have spoken out at recent Board of Education meetings, and the school board is scheduled to meet at 2:30 p.m. Friday, in part to vote on whether to send a letter to Lamont and others in Hartford requesting “local control” in COVID-related decision-making.
An appointed body that oversees New Canaan’s Health and Human Services departments should be doing more to help the town set priorities on spending what remains of $6 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding, its members say. The Town Council last month approved about $2 million in “ARPA” spending, including allocations for “premium pay” for school and town workers, greenlink sidewalks, year-round public bathrooms, a generator and marketing. Yet the Health and Human Services Commission “should be giving more assistance and support to our elected officials on priority funding,” Russ Barksdale Jr., a member of the Commission, said at its Jan. 6 meeting. “I did not see any priority funding given to our local or town Health Department, as an example,” Barksdale said at the meeting, held via videoconference.
More than 98% of 12- to 17-year-olds in New Canaan have been vaccinated against COVID-19 virus, according to the town’s health director. And 100% of town residents aged 18 to 44 also are vaccinated, Jenn Eielson told members of the Health & Human Services Commission during their regular meeting, held Thursday via videoconference.
The 45- to 64-year-old age bracket stands at about 89%, while 100% of those aged 65-and-over are vaccinated, Eielson said during an update to the Commission. “The percentage of the total population with at least one dose—this includes those that re not currently eligible, is 80.12%,” she said. Eielson added that 72.9% of the total population is fully vaccinated.
The town’s Health Department was scheduled to run a booster clinic Thursday of Moderna and Pfizer shots, she said, and 350 people registered for that. A booster clinic for teachers will be held Nov.
Area hospitals have seen an approximately 10% increase in COVID-19 virus cases in the past month, the chair of the New Canaan Health & Human Services Commission said Thursday.
The Norwalk Hospital system “had 50 in-house with COVID with about 30 patients under investigation,” Dr. Harrison Pierce said during the Commission’s regular meeting, held via videoconference. “These are mostly unvaccinated individuals, but not all. The recent numbers on those who are vaccinated and less than 75, there hospital prevention is in the realm of about 95%, but once you get beyond 75 and 80’s, 90’s then it drops to about 80%, so even though the vaccines are great they are not 100%.”
The comments came during a general update to the Commission. New Canaan Health Director Jenn Eielson is on vacation and did not attend the meeting. Pierce relayed statistics from her that included vaccination rates by age group: