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Two More Connecticut Deaths From COVID-19; Lamont Delays Presidential Primaries

drive-through COVID-19 testing
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public/NENC
Clinical staff register patients at Saint Francis Hospital & Medical Center's drive-through COVID-19 testing center on Wednesday, March 18.

Two more Connecticut residents have died from complications related to COVID-19, bringing the state’s death toll to three. Meanwhile, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday the state will postpone its presidential primaries to June 2 as coronavirus rattles what were once seemingly unshakable pillars of American democracy and daily life. 

Lamont announced the latest deaths Thursday. In the morning, he said a 91-year-old man from New Canaan had died. The man, who received treatment at Norwalk hospital, was a family friend, Lamont said.

“This one hits closer to home,” he said. ”This happened to be a gentleman who was a great friend of my father’s.”

The man was identified as Bill Pike. “All of New Canaan is very saddened by the passing of our friend and long-time resident Bill Pike due to COVID-19,” New Canaan First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said in an email. “Bill was a true gentleman and revered figure among his many friends and business colleagues on Wall Street. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bill’s wife Cathie and her family.”

Late Thursday afternoon, the governor’s office announced another death from COVID-19: a man in his 80s who was also from New Canaan.

The governor’s office said both New Canaan men were living in private homes.

Thursday’s deaths were announced less than 24 hours after New England reported its first COVID-19-related fatality. On Wednesday, an 88-year-old man, who was a resident of an assisted living facility in Ridgefield, Connecticut, died from complications related to the virus. 

As the number of deaths nationwide caused by COVID-19 continues to grow, governors from across the tri-state region and Pennsylvania have banded together to shutter large portions of the economy, including bars, restaurants and indoor shopping malls. 

On Thursday, Lamont ordered Connecticut’s barbershops, hair salons and nail salons to close.

“These are difficult decisions that are all meant to put public health first,” Lamont said in a tweet. 

This week, Ohio and Kentucky postponed their presidential primaries. On Thursday, Lamont followed suit, delaying Connecticut’s April 28 primaries until June 2. 

Less than two weeks ago, Lamont was planning a Hartford campaign rally with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden for this week. The rally, originally scheduled for Thursday, was canceled last Friday

Across the nation, COVID-19 and the fears of its spread have transformed American life. 

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin announced that all social and recreational gatherings in the city will be limited to 10 or fewer people. That order runs through April 30 “but may be modified, extended or terminated at any time,” the mayor’s office said. 

Bronin’s order came as four Hartford police officers tested positive for coronavirus. 

In a statement, the city said the officers returned from personal travel to Spain on March 10 and were asked not to return to work upon their arrival in the United States. The officers are asymptomatic and self-isolated at home, according to city officials.

In New York City, debate continues over potentially putting in place a government-mandated “shelter in place” order, similar to the one in San Francisco. 

On Wednesday, Lamont told reporters he doesn’t think such a mandate is necessary for Connecticut, a position that was reiterated by a spokesperson for the governor Thursday.

“If people do the right thing, you don’t need government to enforce it,” Lamont said Wednesday. “If young people understand what it means to stay away from those social interactions … if older folks make sure they stay at home and don’t go out -- all the things that a lockdown would try and accomplish, I hope, we could do that voluntarily. This is America.”

Still, concerns about the spread of COVID-19 continue to grow -- particularly at nursing homes.

State officials said Wednesday that an elderly resident of Evergreen Health Care Center in Stafford Springs tested positive for COVID-19. 

Public health officials said teams were dispatched to that facility and also to Benchmark Senior Living at Ridgefield Crossings, the former home of Connecticut’s first COVID-19 fatality. 

Officials said teams will review infection control procedures at both nursing homes. 

On Wednesday, there were 96 cases of COVID-19 in the state. On Thursday, that number grew to 159.

Meanwhile, schools across America remain closed, raising questions about how to feed needy children and how schools will comply with state-mandated student assessments.

“The school year is not canceled,” state education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said Wednesday. “We hope to welcome students back. But at this point we’re taking precaution, and if we have to extend class cancelation, we will.”

Connecticut schools are closed until March 30, but federal and state officials expect closures to last longer. 

Cardona said the state plans to ask the U.S. Department of Education to suspend all state-mandated student assessments. The waiver would apply to all grades and subjects, as well as district and school accountability measures for the 2019-20 school year.

In a statement, the state Department of Education said it is also working with the College Board “to determine the best course of action to take in regard to the administration of the SAT since the test plays an important role in high school students’ college acceptance, placement and entrance.”

COVID-19 has also caused unprecedented changes to state public universities. 

UConn’s courses at Storrs, the regional campuses and School of Law are all slated to go online starting March 23 for the remainder of the spring semester. The school also canceled its commencement exercises in May.

Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) President Mark Ojakian also announced this week that all 17 CSCU institutions will move to online classes for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester. All in-person commencement activities will also be canceled.

“Social distancing is critically important to the state’s public health efforts to slow the spread of the virus, but it does not mean shutting our lives down,” Ojakian wrote in a Tuesday letter to faculty, staff and students. “So remember to check in (virtually) on your friends and family, look for online yoga or exercise classes, and take a minute to relax and breathe deeply.”

This post has been updated.

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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