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First Wave: Coronavirus In Connecticut

Joe Amon
Connecticut Public

Back in late February as cases of coronavirus crept ever closer to Connecticut’s borders, Gov. Ned Lamont declared that we were ready to meet the challenge. Just 12 weeks later, the death toll surpassed 4,000 and life in the state changed for everyone. Here we look back through the eyes of Connecticut Public’s reporters and visual journalists as they chronicled the first three months of the pandemic.

First Case

For weeks, Nutmeggers had been nervously following events in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island as positive cases of coronavirus surrounded Connecticut. On March 8, 2020, state officials announced the first case of coronavirus infection in a Connecticut resident.

MARCH 8: Connecticut Announces First Positive Case >>

Public Health Emergency

Joe Amon
Connecticut Public/NENC
Nearly empty shelves of bathroom tissue is seen at ShopRite in Canton on March 13, 2020. Many Connecticut stores have seen shoppers stock up on supplies and food amid the coronavirus health crisis.

Events moved quickly, as positive cases mounted. It became clear that the virus would spread easily, particularly in Fairfield County with its close ties to New York City. On March 10th, Gov. Ned Lamont declared a civil preparedness and public health emergency.

MARCH 10: Inside Hartford HealthCare's COVID Call Center >>

MARCH 10: Connecticut Governor Declares 'Civil Preparedness And Public Health Emergencies' >>

MARCH 11: 'Let Us Play': Coaches, Athletes Protest Connecticut's High School Sports Cancellation >>

Schools and Businesses Close

Already several school districts had independently made the decision to close their doors and either give kids vacation, or begin distance learning. Finally the Lamont administration ruled that all schools must close on March 16. Non-essential businesses closed the same day, and restaurants moved to take-out only service.

MARCH 18: The Night COVID-19 Silenced The Slots At Foxwoods >>

Testing Begins

When the crisis first began, Connecticut had to send samples to CDC labs in Atlanta to get them tested. But it soon became clear that testing was going to be a key to getting the crisis under control, and hospitals began ramping up efforts to provide drive through, and eventually mobile testing. Meanwhile, on March 18, Connecticut marked its first death from COVID-19. It was clear to no one then that the state would lose more than 4,000 of its residents in the first three months of the pandemic.

MARCH 18: First Connecticut Resident Dies From COVID-19 >>

Preparing For The Surge

Joe Amon
Connecticut Public/NENC
MARCH 24: A mobile field hospital being erected by the Governor’s Foot and Horse Guard on the grounds of Saint Francis Hospital on March 24, 2020.

By the end of March there were fears that Connecticut’s hospitals might be overwhelmed by the sheer number of patients suffering complications from COVID-19. On March 24, the state erected its first field hospital on the grounds of St Francis Hospital in Hartford, followed shortly after by several other surge facilities.

Unemployment Spikes

Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
APRIL 15: A closed sign on a barbershop in New London on April 15. As COVID-19 cases spread across Connecticut, the state shut down barbershops and salons in March.

In the first two weeks after the closure of non-essential businesses, the state Department of Labor was inundated with unemployment claims. That wave became a tsunami as the weeks continued, mounting eventually to more than half a million claims — a number that the Department might normally see over four years. Meanwhile, essential workers who were still on the frontlines continued to face the danger of contracting the virus.

MARCH 18: More Questions Than Answers: A Tough Week For Connecticut’s Restaurants >>

MARCH 23: Despite Changes To Service, CTtransit Bus Drivers Remain Concerned About Their Safety >>

COVID-19 Devastates Nursing Homes

An employee at nursing facility Kimberly Hall South in Windsor visits with a resident through her window in May.

The first person to die in Connecticut was a man who had been in an assisted living facility in Ridgefield. It soon became clear that nursing homes and other senior living facilities would be fertile breeding grounds for the virus. Eventually, more than half of all deaths would be recorded in these places.

MARCH 13: Connecticut Nursing Home Workers On Coronavirus: 'We Need A Better Plan In Place' >>

Marking Traditions In Isolation

Spring is a time of major religious festivals in many faith traditions. This year, celebrations became memorials; a way of marking what we had lost, and reclaiming a sense of community we had to recreate in isolation.

APRIL 8: Jewish Families Embrace Digital Passover Seder During Social Isolation >>

First Death In Prison

COVID-19 spread easily in nursing homes. It also spread widely in Connecticut’s prison system, which eventually recorded more than 400 cases of coronavirus infection. On April 13, the system saw the first death of an inmate. While the Department of Correction made efforts to reduce the prison population through early releases, activists continued to protest that prisoners were being put at risk.

1,000 Deaths

Connecticut passed a grim milestone on April 17, recording a thousand deaths from COVID-19. Meanwhile, the pandemic was exposing the wide disparities in outcomes in Connecticut as communities of color and immigrants continued to bear the brunt of illness and death.

APRIL 17: Connecticut's COVID-19 Death Toll Passes 1,000; First 'Rapid' Testing Center Opens In New Haven >>

Cases Peak

By April 17, hospitalizations had reached their peak in the hardest hit county, Fairfield. Peaks followed within the next ten days in Hartford and then New Haven. Gov. Ned Lamont announced that a decline in hospitalizations, maintained over two weeks, would be the signal that the worst is past and he would consider reopening parts of the state. But he announced that schools would finish out the academic year online.

First Businesses Reopen

Joe Amon
Connecticut Public/NENC
MAY 12: Hair Stylist Georgeanne DeCosta and Linda Findley, co-owners of Michael Richards Salon keep their social distance while talking at the Shelton Square Shopping Center in Shelton.

On May 20, restaurants could resume service — but only outdoors. Malls reopened, but not all their stores followed suit. And two days before the reopening, hair salons were told they would have to remain shut.

MAY 20: Westfarms Mall Reopens, But Many Stores Remain Closed >>

Is The Wave Over?

Connecticut’s casinos reopened June 1, along with hair salons and Beardsley Zoo. But are we all ready to resume normal life, and has the threat from coronavirus subsided?

More Coronavirus Reporting & Helpful Resources from Connecticut Public:

See the all reports in Connecticut Public's Coronavirus coverage »

Go to CTPublic.org/coronavirus for additional resources and information about the virus and its ongoing impact our day-to-day lives, including tips on working at home, educational resources for school at home, unemployment information, health information, and which facilities and businesses are open or remain closed »

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