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Lamont Orders Residents 'Stay Safe, Stay Home'; Jobless Claims In Connecticut Skyrocket

Ned Lamont
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
Gov. Ned Lamont appears on CNN in a live shot in the Connecticut Public studios on Monday, March 16.

Connecticut residents are being told to stay inside and avoid going out for all but the most essential reasons. Meanwhile, Governor Ned Lamont on Friday ordered virtually all of the state’s workforce to stay home, with exceptions for health care and a handful of other “essential” industries. 

“It’s tough medicine,” Lamont said. “I think it’s the right medicine.”

Lamont’s executive order, signed late Friday, was the capstone for a week of dramatic changes aimed at encouraging social distancing and combating the spread of COVID-19. The latest order will temporarily shut down many retail businesses across the state. 

Under the order, not-for-profit entities and non-essential businesses have been told to cease all in-person functions, if possible, by 8 p.m. Monday. The order extends through April 22, unless terminated earlier by the Governor.  

A detailed list of businesses exempt from the order is expected to be released by Sunday night. 

Speaking to reporters, Lamont’s Chief Operating Officer, Josh Geballe, detailed some of the businesses expected to be exempt.

“A lot of the obvious stuff,” Geballe said. “Health care, financial services and banking, the food supply chain, transportation, public transportation, child care services  -- all of the direct and indirect services that are critical to helping battle COVID-19.”

Construction projects underway and defense manufacturing facilities are also expected to be exempt. It’s anticipated package stores will remain open.

Late Friday night the Governor’s office also announced The Connecticut Department of Revenue Services is extending filing and payment deadlines for personal income tax returns to July 15, 2020. The federal government announced a similar three-month extension earlier today. 

The Governor said people should leave the house as little as possible. 

“If you’re over 70 years old, stay at home,” Lamont said. “Solitary exercise. No big groups. Stay off of public transportation.”

As of Friday, it’s unclear how the newly announced closures and social distancing measures would be enforced. Lamont said individuals would not be fined, but certain businesses might be.

“The municipal police are not going to be heavy handed,” Lamont said. “But if there are fifteen kids hanging out under the basketball hoop, they’re going to say, ‘guys this is not safe for you and it’s not safe for the community.’”

“If there’s a local retail store that stays open, it will be a friendly reminder that the Governor has an executive order, you should be closed,” Lamont said. “People could be subject to fines if they stay open.”

The restrictions follow similar measures in New York, as that state’s coronavirus case count now tops 4,000. Those restrictions, which Governor Andrew Cuomo described Friday as “the most drastic action we can take,” mandate virtually all of the state’s workforce remain at home, excluding essential services like pharmacies and grocery stores.

“It’s the same intent,” Lamont said. 

In Connecticut, Lamont announced the total number of positive COVID-19 cases had reached 194 by Friday. One week ago, that number was 11. 

This week, four residents died due to complications from the virus. The fourth death, a woman in her 80s in Fairfield County, was announced by Lamont Friday. Forty people are hospitalized because of the coronavirus.

“The federal government’s been very slow off the draw on this,” Lamont said. “Obviously, it’d be a lot more effective if the feds had stepped in two or three months ago.”

Jobless Claims Soar

Since Friday, March 13, jobless claims in the state skyrocketed to more than 72,000. 

By comparison, the Department of Labor said for the entire week prior, its office received 2,500 new unemployment claims, “which is very typical,” according to Steve Jensen, a DOL spokesperson.

On Friday, March 20 alone, Connecticut residents filed more than 16,000 unemployment claims. 

Jensen said unemployment pays roughly 50% of your weekly gross earnings over the previous 15 months. Benefits are for 26 weeks – and any extension of that is made on federal level. 

The average weekly benefit is $376 and the maximum is capped at $649. Dependent credits of $15 for up to five children are also available.

As jobless claims skyrocket, more sectors of Connecticut’s economy find themselves struggling with what to do next -- or making decisions that, just weeks ago, were hard to imagine. 

On Friday, Hartford Stage announced it would reduce its employee workforce by 70% through position eliminations and furloughs. 

“We are very saddened by our need to make these reductions in staff as the financial viability of our theater is at risk,” said Managing Director, Cynthia Rider in an emailed statement. “But, given the uncertainty of when large gatherings may again be allowed and how long it may take our creative economy to restart afterward, we were forced to make the tough decision to reduce our payroll in order to meet this challenge.”

This story 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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