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COVID-19 Will Alter Daily Life In Connecticut For Months; Cases Expected To Peak In Coming Weeks

Connecticut Air National Guard
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
Master Sergeant Gregory Jones of the Connecticut Air National Guard watches as supplies are loaded at the Moore Field House at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven earlier this week. A mask hangs from his neck.

Connecticut officials are bracing themselves for a peak in coronavirus cases to hit Fairfield County in mid-to-late April, before the virus surges across New Haven, Hartford and eastern Connecticut, according to case models released Friday.

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Predictions of the surge came on a milestone day for the state: Exactly four weeks ago, Connecticut announced its first COVID-19 infection at Danbury Hospital. 

The latest tallies Friday underscored the speed and severity of the pandemic. Gov. Ned Lamont said Connecticut recorded an additional 1,000 positive cases, bringing the overall case count to nearly 5,000. 

More than 900 state residents are currently hospitalized and 131 have died from COVID-19 complications.

After coronavirus cases peak in Fairfield County in the next two-and-a-half to three weeks, New Haven County should expect its surge about two weeks later, Lamont said. The disease would then continue through the state, peaking in Hartford County probably sometime in mid-May. 

State officials said the impacts outside of Fairfield County may be progressively less severe. The lowest impacts are expected in eastern Connecticut, where significantly lower population densities are predicted to blunt the virus’ impact. 

The state may need about 12,000 beds to combat COVID-19 at its peak, Lamont said Friday.

But Josh Geballe, the governor’s chief operating officer, said social-distancing measures could lower those numbers.

“We can bend that curve and we can flatten that out,” Geballe said. “Hopefully, reduce the number of infections in total as well. That gives our health care system a much better chance to be able to deal with that peak.”

Small Business Loan Relief Program Begins

Lamont is urging Connecticut small business owners to jump on a $349 billion federal relief package that offers forgivable loans to keep workers on the payroll. 

The applications went live on Friday, prompting some lenders to welcome the deluge of inquiries. But other banks said they still don’t have guidance from the federal government on how the program is supposed to work. 

The Paycheck Protection Program — one piece of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package — is intended to help small businesses and nonprofits whose daily operations skittered or ceased when states such as Connecticut asked residents to stay home to curb the rapid spread of coronavirus. 

The Treasury Department said the loans can cover up to 8 weeks of payroll costs, including benefits. The funds can also be used to pay interest on mortgages, rent and utilities. 

If loans are used for qualified expenses, they will be fully forgiven. The catch: Employers must keep workers on staff or quickly rehire workers and maintain their salary levels.

Lamont encouraged small businesses with 500 or fewer employees to immediately document operating expenses so they could file the loan application as soon as possible. 

“There’s no minimum or maximum amount that any state can get for the paycheck protection,” Lamont said Thursday. “Get your application in thoroughly and early and that will advantage you. What advantages you, advantages all of us here in the state of Connecticut.”

Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union, headquartered in Rocky Hill, said it had received more than 100 inquiries about the program in the past week.

“All week we’ve been working with business owners and preparing them with what documentation they might need, if they qualify, the requirements of the program,” said Dana Clark, the credit union’s vice president of lending. “They’ve been able to collect some of that information and apply today.”

In order to handle the high volume, Clark said staffers are being cross-trained: “Our branch traffic we’ve limited to drive-through only, so some of our retail staff are now pitching in.”

In addition to credit unions, some large lenders like Wells Fargo, Huntington Bank and Bank of America said Friday that they are ready to go with the program. But others, including JPMorgan Chase, said they wouldn’t accept applications, citing lack of guidance from the Treasury Department.

ACLU Sues CT Prisons

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut is suing Lamont and the state Department of Correction. The lawsuit, filed Friday, seeks emergency action to release certain low-level offenders who face a heightened health risk if they are exposed to COVID-19 in the prison system. 

On Thursday, the Department of Correction said eight inmates had tested positive for COVID-19, which is one more than it reported Wednesday.

The ACLU is suing on behalf of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and four men who are currently incarcerated. The plaintiffs include an inmate with an autoimmune condition and asthma; one who is over the age of 60; an inmate who is eligible for release to a halfway house next month; and another man with only one lung who is being held in New Haven because he can’t post a $5,000 bond. 

In a statement, the ACLU said the plaintiffs faced a possible death sentence — dying from a pandemic.

“People who are incarcerated in Connecticut are in imminent danger from COVID-19,” said Dan Barrett, the ACLU of Connecticut’s legal director. “The longer Connecticut fails to act to protect them, the closer our state comes to a deadly and unconstitutional disaster.” 

The governor’s office declined to comment on the suit Friday, citing the pending litigation.

But Max Reiss, a spokesman for Lamont, said in an email: “All measures taken during this public health emergency have been to maximize public health outcomes wherever possible, especially inside our correctional institutions in the interests of both staff and incarcerated individuals.”

Transparency Demanded On FEMA Distribution Of Medical Supplies

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is calling out the federal government for a lack of transparency in how the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is distributing critical COVID-19 medical supplies to states.

In a letter to Vice President Mike Pence Thursday, Murphy wrote that not having an efficient, centralized system has sowed confusion and led to “severely counterproductive competition between states, health care facilities, and federal agencies to secure limited supplies, driving up prices and exacerbating critical shortages.”

On Thursday, Lamont said the federal government’s distribution of personal protective equipment and ventilators was “a source of endless frustration.” 

So far, the state has received 50 ventilators from the federal government, Lamont said. He estimated that the state will need an additional 1,500 ventilators when the virus peaks in Connecticut. 

State Modifies Requirements For Filing Restraining Orders

Domestic violence victims who want to file a temporary restraining order in Connecticut will no longer need to go to a courthouse. Through an executive order signed Thursday night, the state is now temporarily waiving certain filing requirements in a bid to help those who may be unable to leave their home. 

Judge Michael Albis, chief administrator of the family matters court, said the executive order means that applicants won’t need a notary public or other authority to take an oath, in person, swearing that their statements are true.

Applicants who prefer to file by going to a courthouse are still free to do so, but officials hope people take advantage of the temporary change while many courthouses have closed or reduced their hours due to COVID-19.

Under the new guidelines, temporary restraining orders may be filed via email during courthouse hours. Applicants may sign electronically or ask a third person to electronically sign for them in cases of disability or limited language proficiency. 

The Connecticut judicial branch said the forms and instructions will be posted on its website next week.

WNBA Delays Season

The WNBA has postponed the start of its 24th season — initially set to open May 15 — because of the coronavirus pandemic. There is no indication when play would begin. The league was scheduled to open training camps April 26. 

Currently, two WNBA cities are major hot spots for the virus: New York and Seattle. The WNBA said it will still hold a “virtual” draft April 17. 

Mohegan Sun Arena, home of the Connecticut Sun, has been closed since mid-March over coronavirus concerns. When the casino closed, it was the first time it ceased operations since opening in 1994, the Connecticut Mirror reported. 

The WNBA is the longest-running professional women’s sports league.

CT Public Radio reporters Harriet Jones and Ryan Lindsay contributed to this report. This report contains information from the Associated Press.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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