President Donald Trump declared a national emergency this afternoon, freeing up additional funding for more labs to begin testing for COVID-19 and making available up to $50 billion to every state, territory and locality.
Saturday afternoon came word that a 13th Connecticut resident has tested positive for the virus. He is a male in his 40s who lives in Norwalk.
The data being reported now includes tests conducted at both the Connecticut Department of Public Health State Laboratory and private laboratories. In total, the state laboratory has completed 115 tests and private laboratories have completed 21 tests as of Friday.
Tables containing data about all of the test results completed to date, including a breakdown of the locations and ages of the patients, can be found by visiting ct.gov/coronavirus.
The FDA has also approved a new test submitted by Roche that will result in some 500,000 additional tests being available by next week, Trump said, with locations probably to be announced on Sunday night, though they will apparently include CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and Target stores.
During his appearance in the White House Rose Garden, Trump said 1.4 million tests will be onboard next week, and 5 million within a month, “though I doubt we’ll need anywhere near that,” he said.
Trump said he was also giving Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar emergency authorities to waive federal regulations and laws to give doctors and hospitals “flexibility” in treating patients. Those include allowing more frequent use of telehealth, which Trump called “a fairly new and incredible thing that’s happened in the not-too-distant past.”
He further announced that interest on student loans from federal agencies will be waived until further notice, and that the Secretary of Energy has been authorized to purchase “at a very great price” large quantities of fuel oil for the nation’s strategic reserve. “We’re gonna fill it right to the top,” Trump said.
Trump also said Google is developing a national website that can determine if a test is merited and direct those taking the test to an appropriate nearby location. Some 1,700 engineers are working on that initiative, Trump said.
But later in the day, Google said the website it is developing is much smaller in scope and would be used only for California residents. At a Saturday press conference at the White House, Vice President Mike Pence indicated that clarity on the issue would be made at a Sunday briefing.
MORE FEDERAL FUNDS?
The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bipartisan coronavirus aid package early this morning. The package, approved by a 363-40-1 vote, will provide paid sick leave, unemployment compensation, nutrition assistance, tax credits, and other measures designed to help Americans through the public health emergency and financial crisis it has engendered.
The bill now goes to the Senate, which will not vote on it until the coming week, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has sent senators home for the weekend.
If passed by the Senate as expected, it would direct about $560 million in additional Medicaid funding to Connecticut, according to estimates by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The actual figure will be based upon a formula under which the federal government would increase Medicaid payments to each state by 8% for the duration of the health crisis. The CBPP estimate assumes a one-year duration.
“We shouldn’t be here right now,” Sen. Chris Murphy said during a Friday morning appearance in Hartford. “Mitch McConnell shouldn’t have sent the Senate home for the weekend. We should be in Congress right now passing an emergency bill to make sure that the families here in Hartford who are going to have to take time off work, either because their businesses are curtailing their hours or because their kids are coming home from school, don’t face economic ruin.”
The Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) is working with small businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19. Specifically, the agency will defer loan payments for all Small Business Express loans for three months. Additional details include:
- The Small Business Express program has approximately 800 outstanding loans with an aggregate loan balance of approximately $110 million.
- The average loan has a five-year remaining term.
- Approximately $5 million in loan payments will be deferred.
In addition, the state agency is making efforts accommodate other businesses with DECD loans that are being impacted.
The Connecticut Department of Labor is suspending the requirement that workers applying for new unemployment benefits directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic be actively searching for work.
Unemployment benefits are available to workers whose employer needs to temporarily shut down or slow down business. Employees who are furloughed by the emergency but expect to return to work can access up to at least six weeks of benefits. Employers reducing hours but not furloughing employees can partner with CTDOL’s Shared Work program, which allows employers to reduce employees’ work schedules by 10 percent to 60 percent and supplement lost wages with unemployment benefits.
Connecticut unemployment insurance already excluded the waiting period other states have removed.
The Connecticut State Department of Education has successfully received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture allowing students who are enrolled in schools that are closed due to COVID-19 and receive meals through the school lunch program to continue receiving those meals and for them to be consumed at home, allowing for social distancing. This action is effective immediately.
Similar to the how the summer lunch program operates, parents and students can show up at their school and receive a lunch for the student and other children in the household under the age of 18 and take the lunch home with them. The meals do not have to be consumed on school premises. Only one student in a household must be present to receive multiple meals for every child 18 years old and under in their household.
The Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS) is implementing changes in Medicaid/HUSKY Health that will support Connecticut’s COVID-19 preparedness and response through increased access to health services. Specifically, for approximately 850,000 enrolled residents, DSS will cover identified telemedicine services, effective today.
DSS is also planning to cover testing for COVID-19; make prescription drug coverage more flexible; and eliminate cost sharing in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (HUSKY B) and for members enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid.
At this time, telemedicine coverage includes:
- Real-time video conferencing, as can be enabled with a smart phone, between HUSKY Health members and their health care providers for specific medical and behavioral health services. This will enable many members and doctors to communicate remotely, with Medicaid covering the virtual visit.
- Broadening video conferencing in general to include all primary care type evaluation and management services for medical and behavioral health.
In response to a petition filed yesterday by Attorney General William Tong, the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) has ordered the gas, electric, and water public service companies it regulates to implement a shut-off moratorium and refrain from terminating utility service to residential customers, except for reasons of public safety, for a 30-day period subject to renewal to ensure all residents may safely remain home during the epidemic.
Several Connecticut state agencies have made the decision to temporarily suspend certain programs and services in order to minimize the spread of COVID-19 to state employees and the public. The closures announced today include:
Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP)
- DEEP is closing all of its visitor centers and facilities associates with its State Parks that are open to the public and receive significant visitor traffic throughout the day. Examples include the visitor center at Dinosaur State Park and the Meigs Point Nature Center at Hammonasset State Park. The closures are effective immediately.
- DEEP is also immediately suspending large gatherings at all of their facilities and parks. These include, for example, weddings that are held at Harkness Memorial State Park. The agency is typically required to provide custodial and other facilities support for these kinds of events. DEEP is sending cancellation notices to the groups that made reservations for these large gatherings through at least the end of April.
Department of Labor (CTDOL)
- CTDOL is suspending the federal RESEA work-search program effective immediately. This program involves a more intensive process that mandates recipients of unemployment insurance go to the American Job Centers in person and receive one-on-one help. The agency anticipated serving 9,030 people this year. Suspending this program will reduce traffic in the centers and help limit in-person contact with the public. The agency still anticipates reaching its goal of serving 9,030 people this year.