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As COVID Continues, So Will High School Graduations

HARTFORD, CT- May 12,2020: Monique Coleman receives a COVID-19 test at a newly opened mobile testing center in the north end of Hartford.
Tyler Russell
Connecticut Public
Monique Coleman receives a COVID-19 test at a newly opened mobile testing center in the North End of Hartford on May12, 2020.

State and social service leaders announced a new public-private program Wednesday to help undocumented immigrants through economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Later in the day, education officials announced that in-person high school graduations, with graduates able to sit together, can begin in July.

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“Our graduates can be together on the field they have dreamed about since kindergarten,” said Matthew Conway, superintendent of Derby Schools. Conway said the district is planning a July graduation for Derby’s 74 seniors. 

State Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona announced that outdoor, in-person graduations will be allowed for up to 150 students with proper precautions in place starting July 6 if current coronavirus trends continue. Speaking at a news conference at Farmington High School, Cardona said current plans for socially distant graduation ceremonies may still be the best option in many districts.

Farmington is one that will go ahead with an alternative graduation ceremony, according to Superintendent Kathleen Greider. Farmington High School will hold a drive-in graduation in June at the Farmington Polo Grounds. Each student will be allowed one passenger vehicle to attend the ceremony in an assigned spot.

Connecticut school districts also can open in-person summer classes on July 6, according to the governor’s office. Superintendents have been asked to work with the local public health director and medical advisers. Each school that opens to students must have a nurse available, and the nurse must work with town health officials to track confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19. 

Positive trends continued Wednesday in the declining rate of COVID-19 infections. Gov. Ned Lamont said 112 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Connecticut, the lowest infection rate in over two months. There were 17 more deaths associated with COVID-19, bringing the state’s overall total to 3,989. 

Public Health data shows that 274,396 tests were reported in Connecticut, with 5,824 new tests reported Wednesday.

Economic Relief Fund Set Up For Families Of Undocumented Immigrants 

Lamont joined nonprofit leaders Wednesday morning outside the offices of Make the Road Connecticut to announce $2.5 million in state money to provide economic relief for families who weren’t eligible for stimulus checks under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. These residents include undocumented immigrants and their families. 

A public-private partnership will fund and run the program. Ted Yang, co-founder and COO of 4-CT, announced an additional $1 million donation from the group to provide prepaid debit cards to the ineligible undocumented population in Connecticut. Yang said 4-CT will partner with community health organizations and community-based agencies to distribute the debit cards. 

The $2.5 million in state funds will be distributed by the state Department of Housing for rental assistance. The money will be paid directly to landlords, said Seila Mosquera-Bruno, commissioner of the Department of Housing. 

“I know for a fact what some of our brothers and sisters are going through, because my parents were undocumented when they first got here,” Mosquera-Bruno said. 

Mosquera-Bruno and Lamont said that undocumented immigrants make up 4.9% of the Connecticut workforce. Mosquera-Bruno said five to six community organizations from across the state will be responsible for connecting residents with rental assistance and debit cards for food and clothing. 

While many residents in Connecticut are working from home, undocumented immigrants have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Kica Matos, director of the Center on Immigration and Justice at the Vera Institute of Justice.

“They have been taking care of our sick. They have been taking care of our elderly. They have been looking after our kids. They have been cleaning our hospitals. They have been working in our factories and they have been cooking our food,” Matos said.

Barbara López, director of Make the Road Connecticut, urged residents to support nonprofits that help immigrants and called on the state to add more aid. 

Lamont Appreciates Help From Washington

Lamont said that given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy -- including undocumented immigrant families -- the CARES Act was the right thing to do. 

“I get nervous as heck when I see the federal government push out that much money, that quickly,” Lamont said. He said more federal money will be needed to recover from the pandemic, including $100 million the state will spend on testing.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation said Wednesday that it has been awarded $224.3 million from the Federal Transit Administration to help cover the cost of operations, maintenance and personal protective equipment for trains and buses.

Connecticut Episcopal Bishops Speak Out

While Lamont voiced appreciation for federal support of COVID-19 economic recovery, Connecticut’s Episcopal bishops joined their New England counterparts and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in speaking out against President Donald Trump’s speech in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square on Monday. 

The leader of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut said churches should not be used for political purposes. 

“What we were trying to do fundamentally is to reclaim the image of the Episcopal Church and of churches anyway as fundamentally places of prayer and openness and God’s love, rather than partisan politics,” Ian Douglas, Bishop Diocesan of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, said Wednesday in an interview with Connecticut Public Radio.

“Churches and sacred symbols should not be used as political tools to foment division, alienation and violence,” the bishops of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut said in a statement Tuesday. 

Restaurants Call For Indoor Dining

Over 550 restaurant owners in Connecticut are urging Lamont to move up the date for indoor dining. 

The Connecticut Restaurant Association had pushed for indoor dining to resume Wednesday, but Lamont told Connecticut Public Radio earlier this week that that was too soon. 

The group of restaurant owners is now pushing for next Wednesday, three weeks after outdoor dining began and 86 days since the restaurant dining rooms were ordered closed.

At his daily media briefing, Lamont boasted that Connecticut was one of the first states in the region to have outdoor dining and said he would consider an earlier reopen date. 

“I’m going to be a little cautious in terms of what the next round is. Right now, as you know, it’s planned for June 20. Maybe we can accelerate that, but it’s close quarters, it means taking off the mask. We have to be cautious there.”

New Haven Reports Numbers

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said Wednesday that the city has recorded 2,512 cases of COVID-19, and 105 residents have died from the virus. The CVS rapid testing site in New Haven has not attracted as many people as expected, and it is scheduled to close June 12, Elicker said.

Maritza Bond, director of public health in New Haven, joined Elicker in urging those congregating to protest the death of George Floyd to get tested for COVID-19. 

Ali Warshavsky contributed to this report.

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