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As New COVID-19 Deaths Grow, Lamont Considers Executive Order On Masks Statewide

face mask
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public/NENC

Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday that he is considering an executive order spelling out when and where Connecticut residents should wear face masks in response to the ongoing pandemic.

Despite a few flickers of hope that Connecticut was rounding the bend on COVID-19 cases, Lamont said virus infections continue to grow, with nearly 200 newly reported deaths. 

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“If you can keep your social distance, you don’t have to wear a mask,” Lamont said. “If you’re walking down the block and you’re by yourself, that’s fine. If you get to a crowded group, wear a mask. If you go into a store … wear a mask.” 
Lamont said the masks don’t need to be medical-quality face coverings. A cloth bandanna or handkerchief will suffice. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance recommending people wear face coverings in certain situations to protect others from contracting COVID-19. Evidence shows asymptomatic people may be able to spread the virus to others, the CDC said.

“This is the way that we can get this virus -- stop it dead in its tracks -- and help this state get moving again,” Lamont said.

As of Wednesday, nearly 2,000 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Connecticut. The state reported an additional 197 deaths, which Lamont said was attributable to a numerical backlog in reporting -- not a one-day death spike. 

Still, hospitalizations are increasing. In New Haven County, the number of people hospitalized from COVID-19 surpassed 600 on Wednesday. 

As he works to contain the virus in New Haven, Mayor Justin Elicker signed an emergency order Wednesday that will require the use of face coverings in essential retail businesses, including grocery stores, big-box stores or wholesale clubs, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores and package stores.

Elicker’s order also specifies that business owners may refuse customers not wearing face masks. The order takes effect on Friday morning.

“Wearing a mask is an important way to protect your neighbors, family members and others from contracting COVID-19,” Elicker said in a statement. “We are fast approaching 800 positive cases in the Elm City … Please stay home as much as you can and stay safe.”

Millions In Federal Aid Slated For Connecticut Airports Hard-Hit By COVID-19

Connecticut airports will soon receive about $30 million in federal aid, state and federal officials said, as Bradley International Airport reports a more than a 95% drop-off in passenger traffic. 

While Bradley remains open and domestic flights are operating, the Connecticut Airport Authority, which runs Bradley, said many of its airline partners have reduced schedules or dropped their flights completely.

“Aer Lingus, Air Canada and Spirit Airlines have temporarily stopped all operations from Bradley,” the CAA’s Ryan Tenny said in an email Wednesday. “Our other airline partners continue to adjust operations on a daily basis … we are currently experiencing over a 95% decrease in passenger traffic.”

Roughly $28.5 million of the federal aid package will go to Bradley, according to a joint statement from Connecticut’s congressional delegation. 

The money can be used for airport capital expenditures, operating expenses such as payroll and utilities, and debt payments. 

The airport aid package is part of a multibillion-dollar government relief program aimed at shoring up operations at U.S. airports affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The impacts to our operations will likely persist for months to come,” Kevin Dillon, executive director of the CAA, said in a statement. “This assistance is an essential piece of the solution.”

In addition to Bradley, Tweed-New Haven will receive roughly $1.1 million, and Igor Sikorsky Memorial Airport, which is owned by the city of Bridgeport, will get about $150,000.

UCONN Health Using Patient Blood To Fight COVID-19

As doctors continue to seek new ways to fight the novel coronavirus, UConn Health announced Wednesday that several employees who have recovered from COVID-19 are donating their blood to help critically ill patients. 

The trial will test whether the antibodies in that blood could attack the virus and help patients sick with COVID-19 recover more rapidly. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved four health care systems for the study, including the Mayo Clinic and Trinity Health of New England, which runs Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford.

UConn Health said Wednesday that it’s joined the effort using a protocol developed by the Mayo Clinic.

“The use of convalescent plasma is not at all new to medicine and can be traced back to the 20th century,”  Mauricio Montezuma, site principal investigator for UConn Health, said in a statement. “Data on convalescent plasma in COVID-19 is limited; however, two small reports from China are promising.”

Before any donor blood would be transfused to coronavirus patients, it will be tested for several things, including virus-resistant antibodies, UConn Health said. 

If the blood is suitable, the plasma will be donated. 

Donors must have tested positive for coronavirus, be asymptomatic for 14 days, and have a subsequent negative test for the disease. 

‘No Cost’ Life Insurance Offered To Front-Line Health Care Workers

Medical professionals in Connecticut and Massachusetts who are risking their lives to provide care to patients infected with the novel coronavirus could soon be eligible for free life insurance, state officials said Wednesday.

The no-cost, three-year term life insurance policy would cover medical workers employed at a licensed hospital, an urgent care center or with an emergency medical services provider. The workers must have exposure to COVID-19 patients.

The life insurance policy, offered through Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., would provide up to $25,000 in no-cost benefits for workers 18-50 years old. Workers 51-60 will receive a no-cost $10,000 death benefit.

Lab technicians, custodial staff, maintenance crews, cafeteria workers and security personnel will also be considered for coverage, according to state officials.

More details and information on enrollment availability is on the MassMutualHealthBridge web page.

Support Requested For Domestic Violence And Sexual Assault Victims

A bipartisan group of 39 U.S. senators, including Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), is calling for more federal funding to support programs for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The $2 trillion coronavirus relief package already approved by Congress includes about $47 million for some domestic violence services, but no funding was allocated for sexual assault and domestic violence support programs operated by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Local police and representatives of support services around the U.S. are reporting increased numbers of calls for help from victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The senators seeking more funding for such programs warn that “abusers are using COVID-19 to isolate their victims, withhold financial services and refuse medical aid.”

Murphy and Blumenthal, along with their colleagues, have asked that any additional relief legislation related to the pandemic include money for sexual assault service providers, law enforcement, transitional housing and other support services.

Connecticut Seeking Full Federal Disaster Funding For Pandemic Costs

Lamont and the state’s congressional delegation are asking the federal government to reimburse Connecticut for 100% of the state’s emergency spending relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Donald Trump has issued a federal disaster declaration for Connecticut as requested by Lamont, but that would provide only 75% federal reimbursement for state costs.

“The size and scope of this public health emergency is unprecedented,” Lamont said. “If approved, this request would bring much needed additional financial assistance to the state and our municipalities.”

In his request, Lamont said the state has already spent about $500 million on pandemic-related programs and services, money that wasn’t in the state budget. The governor said state government spending on COVID-19 issues is projected to “at least triple to $1.5 billion.”

Relief Requested For Local Farmers

As states across America adopt social distancing mandates aimed at combating the spread of COVID-19, the economic wiring of many local farms has unraveled. 

Traditional buyers like nearby restaurants or schools have closed, and many farmers markets have shut down. 

In response, the federal CARES Act sets aside $9.5 billion, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture will use to provide support to farmers across the nation. 

Last week, senators Blumenthal and Murphy wrote to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, advocating that a portion of that money go to local food producers.

Additionally, the senators said they want the USDA to issue direct payments to qualified local farmers that are equal to 25% of annual revenue, up to a maximum of $25,000.

“For those local food producers who can provide information regarding actual COVID revenue loss and added costs, additional disaster assistance should be made available,” the senators wrote. 

CT Mirror reporter Greg Hladky contributed to this report.

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 at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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