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Connecticut Expands Testing, As 35 People Die From COVID-19 At Windsor Nursing Home

Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
Gov. Ned Lamont stands between beds in New Haven on March 31. The beds are intended to accommodate patients in case regional hospitals are maxed out by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Ned Lamont announced a partnership with Quest Diagnostics on Tuesday that he said will boost the state’s capacity to test for COVID-19. The announcement comes as officials said 35 people have died from complications related to coronavirus at Kimberly Hall North, a nursing home in Windsor. 

This story has been updated.

So far, state officials said Connecticut has run a daily average of about 2,600 COVID-19 tests over the last seven days. The state said the partnership could mean an 80% increase in available tests.

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“As we think about returning the state to work, amping up our testing capabilities is paramount,” said Jeffrey Flaks, president and CEO at Hartford HealthCare. He said the deal will increase Hartford HealthCare’s testing capability and help it nearly match the state’s entire daily output.

Patients looking to get tested will still need a test order from a clinician. Results will be turned around in 24 hours.

Lamont said the partnership will expand testing capacity not only for the Hartford area, but also Norwich, Bridgeport and New Britain. 

“They’re going to have a mobile testing facility, so we’ll be able to get those tests out to nursing homes, and correctional facilities and homeless shelters -- and those places where we have the most contagion,” Lamont said.

Thirty-Five People Die From COVID-19 Complications At Windsor Nursing Home 

A coronavirus outbreak at Kimberly Hall North, a nursing home in Windsor, has killed 35 people, officials for the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities said Tuesday.

“Kimberly Hall North is our most severely affected facility in Connecticut,” said Richard Feifer, chief medical officer for Genesis HealthCare, which runs the nursing home. The facility has 150 licensed beds, according to state numbers

“Our heart goes out to their families and our heart goes out to their caregivers,” Feifer said. “I wish I could tell you exactly why -- at that facility -- they had so many, when others at Genesis and others around the state don’t. But that speaks to how much we don’t know yet about this virus.”

Feifer described the markets to buy personal protective equipment like gowns and masks for nursing home workers as “chaos.”

“Hospitals and nursing homes -- we are all in bidding wars in back alleys. And it’s crazy. And it’s wasteful,” Feifer said. “We need more production, because fighting over an inadequate supply is still going to have too many losers and too many deaths.”

Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, said Tuesday the state has received some “significant deliveries in the last 24 hours” of PPE like surgical gloves, masks and N95 respirator masks.

“But there are still areas where there are gaps,” Geballe said. “Surgical gowns … is one of the real pinch points. Along with the swabs, right now in the supply chain … that’s a known challenge.”   

Surge Beds Deployed, Hospitalizations Rise In Hartford County

The Connecticut National Guard worked at Central Connecticut State University on Tuesday, setting up 200 beds for recovering COVID-19 patients. 

The effort came as coronavirus-related hospitalizations in Hartford County rose to 455 on Tuesday, up by 35 patients. Lamont said Monday that cases in Hartford County are expected to peak in the next one to two weeks.

The university’s new care center aims to open up hospital bed space for acute-care COVID-19 patients. The space will give those recovering from the virus a quarantined area to recover while still receiving treatments that would be difficult to manage in a home setting, such as intravenous fluid. 

The Guard has also set up surge capacity at the Connecticut Convention Center, Southern Connecticut State University, Western Connecticut State University and at a formerly closed building at Stamford Hospital, Geballe said.

“Stamford Hospital is the only one that has actually received some patients at this point and is helping to support the surge in lower Fairfield County,” Geballe said. 

Republican Lawmakers Write To Lamont As 2020 Regular Session Ends

On Monday, the House Republican caucus wrote to Lamont requesting more clarification about his plans to reopen Connecticut after weeks of school and business closures intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In a letter co-signed by state House Republican leader Themis Klarides and deputy House Republican leader Vincent Candelora, lawmakers said they agree with certain thresholds Lamont has said must be met before any mass reopening of Connecticut -- including a steady 14-day decline in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, as well as more mass testing. 

But Republicans said they want more information about the economic impacts of school and business closures. In particular, lawmakers said they want more reporting from the governor on jobless numbers and a better representation of pediatric and special education concerns from the governor’s Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group.

Meanwhile, Klarides, who was the first woman to lead the Republican members of the Connecticut House of Representatives, said Tuesday she will not seek reelection, but she has not ruled out a run for governor

Klarides was first elected in 1998 to represent Derby, Woodbridge and Orange. 

Her announcement came the same day as lawmakers said they would not reconvene the regular 2020 legislative session because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Relief Coming For Private Student Loan Borrowers

Lamont announced Tuesday the state has reached an agreement to provide financial relief to private student loan borrowers. 

The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which passed Congress last month, included interest-free payment suspension for federal student loans. Private loans were not addressed through the act.

The package announced Tuesday would apply to Connecticut residents with commercially owned Federal Family Education Loan Programs or privately held student loans. Relief options include forbearance, waiving late payment fees and ceasing debt collection lawsuits. 

“Student loan borrowers, regardless of whether or not they are federally guaranteed, who are having trouble making their payments should immediately reach out to their servicers to discuss what options best suit their needs,” state Banking Commissioner Jorge Perez said in a statement. “I am pleased that we were able to work with our student loan servicers as well as other states to bring this initiative to the people of Connecticut.”

Other states joining the relief program include California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, Virginia and Washington. 

A list of participating private student loan servicers will be available on the Department of Banking’s website.

Second Round Of Emergency SNAP Food Benefits Approved 

State officials announced Monday that more than 100,000 Connecticut households got a second round of food benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The move bolsters SNAP benefits to the maximum level for households that otherwise would not qualify for that level of assistance. The relief is part of the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act,  which was signed into law last month. 

The federal act also provides funding for free coronavirus testing and two weeks of paid sick leave.

State Offers Grants To Artists Impacted By COVID-19

State officials announced two new grant programs Monday to assist artists during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Connecticut Artists Relief Grant Program will make $500 available to qualified artists who live in the state and can demonstrate a loss of income for creative work because of COVID-19.

Only 100 grants are eligible. State officials said awards will be randomly selected from a qualified pool of applicants.

Additionally, the Connecticut Artists Respond Grant Program will make money available to individual or collaborative artists who present art activities, classes or other “creative experiences” online at no cost to the public. The grants will be $1,000 for an individual and $2,000 for a collaborative team.

Both programs will be managed through the Department of Economic and Community Development. Applications will be accepted through Monday, May 4. 

This story contains information from the Associated Press.

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