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Connecticut's COVID-19 Death Toll Passes 1,000; First 'Rapid' Testing Center Opens In New Haven

National guard coronavirus testing
Ryan Caron King/Connecticut Public
Sr. Airman Michael Choothesa of the Connecticut National Guard directs a car to the next station at a COVID-19 rapid testing center that started operating on Friday.

The number of people in Connecticut who have died from coronavirus topped 1,000 Friday.  

“It’s a milestone tragic day,” Gov. Ned Lamont said Friday. The state’s death toll as of Friday was 1,036.

This post has been updated.

But the somber news came amid optimism from the governor. In the last 24 hours, the state reported a net change in COVID-19 hospitalizations of only 20 people. 

“That’s a low number,” Lamont said. “That’s good news. Shows, again, that maybe, just maybe, our social distancing is working.” 

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Right now, about 2,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19. But Lamont said hopeful hospitalization numbers now don’t translate into immediate changes to sweeping restrictions on business and the economy that have upended Connecticut and the nation over the last month. 

“We’ve got to stay serious in terms of maintaining our discipline for at least another month,” Lamont said. 

In addition to net hospitalizations, new admission numbers are also trending downward, which Lamont said was another positive indicator. Over the last two weeks, he said the rolling three day average of new hospital admissions has dropped by about half.

As the state enters the second month of living with a pandemic, Lamont said he recognized the anxiety that weeks of social isolation has brought upon residents mentally and the fears people are feeling financially. 

In response, the state is launching “Talk It Out,” a hotline where parents and caregivers can speak to mental health professionals about stresses they feel as coronavirus upends daily life.

“Reaching out for support is healthy,” said Vannessa Dorantes, commissioner of the state Department of Children and Families. “It’s normal, and it can make you an even better and stronger parent.”

Connecticut’s First ‘Rapid’ COVID-19 Testing Center Opens In New Haven

Hundreds of state residents can now get tested for the novel coronavirus each day, for free, and in under 30 minutes at a testing site in New Haven, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Friday. 

Lamont said the initiative was a partnership between the state and CVS Health, which will use a rapid-response COVID-19 test from Abbott Labs, which can return results in as little as five minutes. 

Though it’s quick, it’s only happening at one spot for now: 60 Sargent Drive in New Haven, the former Gateway Community College parking lot. 

Credit Ryan Caron King/Connecticut Public
A medical worker stands between tents at Connecticut’s first COVID-19 rapid testing center in New Haven. Officials say the wait for results will be about 30 minutes, and they plan to test up to 750 people a day.

People seeking to get tested must pre-register online, but they do not need a note from a medical professional, a spokesperson for the governor said. 

What is needed, however, is a car. Walk-up testing is not allowed. If residents do not have a car, they can call 2-1-1- and the state will provide a taxi service at no cost, a spokesperson for New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said Friday. 

Elicker’s office also said that New Haven residents without internet access can get help registering by phone with the city’s health department. 

“We see the effectiveness of COVID-19 rapid testing sites in other states like Georgia and Rhode Island, and I am glad that CVS has stepped up to open a rapid testing site in New Haven,” Elicker said in a statement. “This partnership will aim to test up to 1,000 people a day in this location.” 

Lamont said the first 100 tests every day will be offered to first responders. On Friday, Lamont said four of those first responders tested positive.

Connecticut reported more than 2,300 people tested for COVID-19 Friday. So far, more than 50,000 people have been tested for the virus and nearly 16,000 people have tested positive.

Lamont Postpones Presidential Primary To August

Friday also brought changes to the state's political calendar due to COVID-19.

Lamont said he planned to order the 2020 presidential primary to be delayed by another two months to Tuesday, Aug. 11. The primary was originally scheduled for April 28, and Lamont already rescheduled it once to June 2. But, now, primary voters will wait again until August. 

“To protect the health and safety of voters, poll workers, and the most vulnerable populations, it just makes most sense to extend the date out to August,” Lamont said in a statement. 

The Aug. 11 day is when the state will also hold primaries for other federal, state, and local offices, Lamont said. His decision has the support of Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.

“This date change will allow us to make it easier to protect the health and safety of voters and local election officials, prepare for the anticipated increase in demand for absentee ballots, save towns money, and let voters make their voices heard in the presidential primary process, all by holding one primary instead of two," she said.

Hartford HealthCare Injects “Convalescent” Plasma Into COVID-19 Patient

A patient in intensive care at Hartford Hospital has received a transfusion of convalescent plasma. 

Ajay Kumar, Hartford HealthCare’s chief clinical officer, announced the “successful” completion of the procedure Friday morning. 

Whether or not the therapy works is still an open question.

“Obviously, time will tell -- the recovery process -- on that,” Kumar said. 

The use of convalescent plasma dates back to the turn of the 20th century. It is, potentially, a way to leverage the antibodies present in the blood of a recovered COVID-19 patient by infusing that plasma into a sick person. The hope is that plasma will jumpstart an immune system response. 

Kumar said one measure of success as to whether or not the therapy works will be if the patient is able to get off a ventilator.

“If individuals are able to oxygenate themselves without the support of a ventilator … that is one of the most important markers of the therapy’s response,” Kumar said. 

UConn Health announced this week that several employees who have recovered from COVID-19 are now in the process of donating their blood to help critically ill patients. 

Recovered COVID-19 patients interested in donating their plasma can learn more about the process on Hartford HealthCare’s website.

Connecticut reported nearly 3,000 more people tested for COVID-19 Thursday. So far, more than 50,000 people have been tested for the virus and nearly 16,000 people have tested positive.

Masks Become Mandatory In Bridgeport

Bridgeport announced Thursday it is now requiring all people in the city to use facial coverings while in public places like parks and essential businesses.

The move follows the lead of New York and New Haven, which both have also enacted similar measures requiring the use of face coverings in situations where social distancing is not possible. All three mask orders go into effect Friday. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people should wear face coverings in certain situations as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19 and short circuit transmission pathways from asymptomatic people to others. 

Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim said in a statement that the use of medical-grade masks or N95 respirators is “discouraged” as those masks should be reserved for healthcare workers and other frontline first responders. Instead, he’s encouraging people in Bridgeport to wear store-bought masks or homemade coverings like scarves or bandanas. 

Metro-North also announced Friday it is now requiring its employees and its customers to wear masks or face coverings while on trains.

Lamont said earlier this week that he is considering an executive order spelling out when and where Connecticut residents should wear face masks in response to the ongoing pandemic. A spokesperson for the governor said that the order will be signed Friday. 

Connecticut Public Radio’s Jeff Cohen 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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