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COVID-19 LATEST: Fed stimulus bill to be voted on today; CT confirmed cases top 600

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An agreement was reached early this morning on the $2 trillion fiscal stimulus bill aimed at alleviating the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“After days of intense discussions, the Senate has reached a bipartisan agreement on a historic relief package for this pandemic,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) announced from the Senate floor shortly before 2 a.m. this morning. “In effect, this is a wartime level of investment for our nation.”

McConnell said he expected the Senate to pass the legislation later Wednesday after it returns at noon. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told reporters that President Donald Trump would “absolutely” sign it if Congress passes it, as is expected.

“This is not a moment of celebration but one of necessity,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said this morning. “Like all compromises, this bill is far from perfect, but we believe the legislation has been improved significantly to warrant its quick consideration and passage, and because many Democrats and Republicans were willing to do the serious and hard work, the bill is much better off than where it started.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said that House Democrats would review the provisions of the measure “to determine a course of action.”

Reportedly the plan includes checks for $1,200 to be sent to people making up to $75,000 a year and $2,400 to couples making up to $150,000, with an additional $500 per child.

The payments would decrease for those making more than $75,000, with an income cap of $99,000 per individual or $198,000 for couples.

The bill is also expected to include roughly $100 billion in assistance for hospitals; $350 billion in assistance to small businesses; $500 billion in aid for corporations, including airline companies and cruise lines, that have been negatively impacted by the outbreak; and about $150 billion for state and local stimulus funds.

The agreement also would prohibit businesses controlled by Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, members of Congress and heads of executive departments from receiving loans or investments from Treasury programs.

LATEST FROM CONNECTICUT
Since Monday’s update, Connecticut recorded another 203 confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total to 618. To date, more than 5,300 tests have been conducted in Connecticut among both state and private laboratories.

Approximately 71 people have been hospitalized and there have been another two fatalities, bringing the total number of fatalities due to complications of COVID-19 to 12.

A county-by-county breakdown includes:

County Laboratory Confirmed Cases Hospitalized Cases Deaths
Fairfield County 384 23 7
Hartford County 88 17 2
Litchfield County 22 3 0
Middlesex County 8 4 0
New Haven County 89 19 0
New London County 6 1 0
Tolland County 19 4 3
Windham County 2 0 0
Total 618 71 12

 

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Gov. Ned Lamont addresses the Fairfield County chamber. Bernie Weiss Photos

At his briefing on Tuesday, Gov. Ned Lamont said that 62% of that total – 384 cases – was in Fairfield County. Lamont said the increase in infections was not a result of an increase in testing.

Lamont also said that a total of about 900 retired nurses and doctors have returned to duty, and that about 300 of them are already at work.

In addition, Southern and Central Connecticut State Universities are opening their dormitories not only for intermediate coronavirus cases, but possibly also for medical staff.

Lamont also announced that Indra and Raj Nooyi plan to make a donation of high-quality, take-home books from Scholastic that will provide reading and writing instruction to more than 185,000 prekindergarten to 8th grade students while learning from home.

Students in prekindergarten through the third grade will receive four books per student plus a family resource guide. Students from fourth through eighth grades will receive three books per student and a family resource guide. The books are aligned with Connecticut state learning standards, and parents are encouraged to work with students at home to complete these exercises. Students will be able to keep the books indefinitely.

The donation is the second in as many days, as on Monday the Partnership for Connecticut, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping Connecticut’s disengaged and disconnected youth and young adults access education and career opportunities, announced that it plans to donate up to 60,000 laptops to students from some of the state’s most under-resources high schools. The laptops will be targeted toward the state’s 33 Alliance Districts that serve significant populations of high school students who are eligible for free or reduce-price meals.

Indra Nooyi is the former CEO of PepsiCo and currently serves as the co-director of AdvanceCT, the nonprofit organization that works to engage, retain, and recruit businesses and advance overall economic competitiveness in Connecticut. Her husband, Raj, is president of AmSoft Systems, a company that provides custom solutions and services in the areas of e-business, new media, and wireless access point products. They are residents of Greenwich.

As for personal protective equipment (PPE), the governor said that while the wait continues for federal supplies to arrive, “We’re not gonna sit around and wait for the cavalry to come in.” Lamont said the state is “vetting lots of different options, offers” for PPE, “some of which seem a little shady, frankly.”

The state today received several more shipments of materials, including:

  • 30 N95 masks from an anonymous donor
  • 68 N95 masks from Kilbourn Farms in Simsbury
  • 40 N95 masks from a private donor in Redding
  • 160 N95 masks and nearly 40,000 nitrile gloves from the Mohegan Sun

EXECUTIVE ORDER

Lamont’s Executive Order No. 7L enacts the following provisions:

  • Extends the cancellation of classes at public schools statewide through at least April 20: To promote and secure the safety and protection of children in schools related to the risks of COVID-19, the order extends the cancelation of classes at all public schools statewide through April 20. The governor notes that this date could possibly be extended further. Private schools and other non-public schools are encouraged to follow the same schedule.
  • Orders the early opening of the fishing season, effective immediately
  • Suspends restrictions on the re-employment of retired municipal employees: To enable municipalities to meet critical staffing needs caused by COVID-19 with skilled and experienced employees who require little to no additional training, the order modifies state statutes to allow certain retired employees who are in the municipal retirement system to work without any hourly or durational limitation while also continuing to receive retirement allowances.
  • Exacts flexibility to maintain adequate medical marijuana access for patients: The order modifies the state’s medical marijuana program to improve patient access and address staffing shortages in facilities. This includes permitting patients to be certified via telehealth; extending expiration dates for patient and caregiver registrations; allowing dispensary facility staff to move work locations among facilities and, with approval of the state, make adjustments to staffing ratios; and waiving the fee normally charged if someone loses or misplaces their registration certificate.
  • Extends the time period for nursing home transfers: The order extends the time allowed for an applicant to transfer from a nursing home where they were temporarily placed after their nursing home closed from sixty days after their arrival at the new facility to “not later than one year following the date that such applicant was transferred from the nursing home where he or she previously resided.”
  • Enacts flexibility in availability and registration of vital records: The order authorizes the Commissioner of Public Health to conduct birth, death and marriage registration, in order to assist local registrars of vital statistics in carrying out their duties as may be required, and to issue any implementing orders she deems necessary.
  • Suspends in-person purchase of copies of vital records at the Department of Public Health: The order suspends the requirement that the purchase of vital records at the Department of Public Health be available in person, and limits those requests to online or mail.
  • Modifies the requirement that marriage licenses be obtained in the town where the marriage will be celebrated: As municipal offices around the state are closed or have selective hours due to the COVID-19 crisis, the order permits those seeking a marriage license to obtain it in a different municipality than where it will be celebrated.

AROUND THE STATE

Connecticut Insurance Department (CID) Commissioner Andrew N. Mais today sent a bulletin to every insurance company in the state calling on them to immediately institute a grace period for insurance premium payments in light of the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The commissioner is requesting that all admitted and non-admitted insurance companies that offer any insurance coverage in Connecticut – including life, health, auto, property, casualty, and other types of insurance – to immediately provide customers with a 60-day grace period without interest or penalty to pay their insurance premiums.

Earlier today in Hartford, Dr. Ajay Kumar, chief clinical officer for Hartford HealthCare, said  that COVID-19 cases could subside within two to four weeks if proper hygienic methods like social distancing and thorough handwashing continue.

He warned, however, that “It is going to get worse” before that leveling off occurs.

Kumar further said he hoped a vaccine and antiviral drugs could be available by September or October.

Details are still being worked out over a small business bridge loan program, which is being put together by the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). The state’s quasi-public venture and lending arm Connecticut Innovations will review and fund the loans, which will be capped at $75,000 with an overall funding equipment of $20 million Terms would be 12 to 18 months at zero to 1% interest.

In the meantime, Danbury’s FuelCell Energy announced that it has temporarily suspended operations at its Torrington facility, and expects to remain closed until April 20, with some employees who cannot work remotely returning April 1. Employees unable to work from home during the closure will receive full pay and benefits.

“I sincerely appreciate FuelCell Energy’s proactive approach to protecting public health and their commitment to pay their workers full wages and benefits during this time,” DECD Commissioner David Lehman said.

Meanwhile, leaders of the General Assembly have decided to keep the state Capitol complex until at least April 13. House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin); House Minority Leader Themis Klarides (R-Derby); Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney (D-New Haven); and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano (R-North Haven) said they would meet again the week of April 6 to assess the situation.

The General Assembly is scheduled to conclude its current session on May 6. Although it seems increasingly likely that the session will be extended as the Assembly grapples with the presumed aftermath of the virus, no official indication has been given on that point.

Further ramping up concerns here were remarks made by Andrew Cuomo, governor of neighboring New York, at his March 24 briefing. Cuomo said that new infections are “doubling about every three days …We’re not slowing it, and it is accelerating on its own.”

New York’s infection “attack rate” is five times higher than that of the rest of the U.S.

SCHOOLS TO STAY CLOSED UNTIL FALL?
Although Lamont extended the mandatory closure of schools from March 17 to April 20, on March 24 he told WCBS 880 that he could extend it again until after the summer.

“I really think that’s the likelihood,” Lamont said. “You just look at Italy and you look at Wuhan province, you see what the life cycle was there and you worry that if people get back too quickly that there’ll be a second iteration of this virus. So April 20 is the minimum, probably the school year.”

At his press briefing, Lamont stuck with his April 20 edict but said, “My instinct is that this is a virus that’s going to last a lot longer than that.”

The state Department of Education announced that all standardized testing, including in-school SATs, will be canceled for the 2019-20 school year. The department said it is working with the College Board to offer interested juniors to take the SAT on a weekend at no cost.

TRUMP WANTS NATION “RARING TO GO BY EASTER”; WARNS OF MASS SUICIDES IF IT ISN’T
Speaking to Fox News, Trump said he wants the nation “opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” indicating he believes the worst of the crisis will be over by April 12.

“I give it two weeks,” Trump said, possibly indicating plans to abandon the 15-day self-isolating guidelines when they expire. “I guess by Monday or Tuesday, it’s about two weeks. We will assess at that time and give it more time if we need a little more time. We have to open this country up.”

Trump indicated that the self-isolating guidelines, tirelessly promoted by Vice President Mike Pence as “President Trump’s” during the White House’s daily briefings, no longer struck him as valid.

“Somehow, the word got out that this is the thing we are supposed to be doing,” he said. “But we had to do it. It’s been very painful for our country and very destabilizing.

“We have to go back to work much sooner than people thought,” he expanded. “We lose thousands and thousands of people to the flu. We don’t turn the country off.”

Later, Trump told Fox News: “We have to put the country to work. You are going to lose a number of people to the flu, but you are going to lose more people by putting the country in a massive recession or depression.

“You are going to have suicides by the thousands,” he expanded. “You can’t just come in and say, ‘Let’s close up the United States of America.'”

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