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COVID-19 UPDATE: 21 deaths; Federal disaster declaration sought; Analysis of $2 trillion fed aid

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Connecticut has now recorded its 21st COVID-19-related fatality, Gov. Ned Lamont announced today. Fifteen were over the age of 80 and four were over 70.

Lamont, who was joined at his daily briefing by fellow Democrats and Connecticut’s two U.S. senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, said there are 125 people hospitalized with the disease, and that there are 1,012 confirmed cases.

Health officials report that of the 21 deaths, 13 were in Fairfield County, three in Tolland County, two in Hartford County, two in New Haven County and one in Middlesex County.

To date, more than 6,500 tests have been performed statewide.

Lamont noted that the number and percentage of infected people, as well as the amount of testing, are all “down a little bit,” but cautioned that that news should not be cause for celebration: “The numbers are going to bounce around a little bit.”

Given the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), testing will not be increased for the near term, the governor said. Instead, testing will be reserved for “those most critically in need” and frontline medical staff.

Lamont also said that no more than five people should congregate at a social gathering, and that he plans to lift the tax on plastic bags.

Much of the day’s COVID-19 news consisted of discussing the U.S. Senate’s approval of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which will provide $150 billion to each state – a measure that Blumenthal said had been lacking in a previous version of the bill supported by Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Lamont repeated his opinion that states with a high incidence rate should be receiving more than those with fewer incidents, and Blumenthal said he would make an effort at doing just that in Washington, D.C. Murphy said the low incidence rate in states in the middle of the country may be due to a relative lack of testing.

Blumenthal called what he views as President Donald Trump’s “belittling” attitude of the health emergency “irresponsible and in fact unconscionable.” He said the supply of PPE is still lacking – “chillingly so” – in many facilities.

The senator described the CARES Act as “imperfect but imperative – it’s not a panacea,” and said that there will be a fourth and fifth, and perhaps a sixth, federal economic stimulus bill as the situation develops.

Among the issues yet to be fully addressed are emergency medical and family leave, pensions, COBRA and consumer protections, Blumenthal said.

“This is a threat the government cannot defeat alone,” Murphy said, repeating calls for social distancing.

Echoing Blumenthal’s remarks about Trump, Murphy said the CARES Act “will be effective in staving off a catastrophe, but it is not the end of our work.”

Murphy also said that Trump’s failure to implement the Defense Production Act has been “inexplicable, barbaric and wildly ineffective.”

The only choice other than entering a recession, the senator said, “is to give up and have an economic meltdown” with health care systems imploding and “millions of people” dying.

“There’s no in-between,” Murphy said, noting that no country has overcome COVID-19 by giving up on social distancing.

Murphy further said that the crisis needn’t last a year, or even six months, if proper action is taken both by individuals and the government.

As of 4 p.m., there were 79,785 confirmed cases in the U.S., less than 1,000 behind Italy and less than 2,000 behind China, which have been the hardest hit. All told, global cases confirmed stood at over 521,000, according to tracking data supplied by Johns Hopkins.

REQUEST FOR FEDERAL DISASTER DECLARATION
The governor has submitted a request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a presidential major disaster declaration resulting from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the state, a move that Blumenthal said the state’s entire congressional delegation supports.

Lamont is requesting public assistance for all eight of the state’s counties, via all four supplemental assistance programs under the Individual Assistance Program: Disaster Unemployment Assistance, the Crisis Counseling program, Disaster Case Management, and Disaster Legal Services.

Additionally, he is requesting “Individuals and Households Program Other Needs” categories of Child Care Assistance and Funeral Assistance.

“This global pandemic is continuing to have a major impact on the lives of every person and entity in our state and around our county,” Lamont said. “If approved, this disaster declaration request will provide greatly needed assistance to our residents, as well as our local and state governments, so that we can try to bring some relief during this difficult and ongoing challenge.”

In recent days, Trump has declared disasters in New York, California, Washington, Louisiana, Iowa, Florida and Texas.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced this morning that nearly 3.3 million people filed jobless claims last week, the highest number since the department began tracking that data in 1967. The previous high was 695,000 claims filed in the week ending Oct. 2, 1982.

Connecticut has received “well over 100,000” claims, Lamont said today.

Earlier today, The Business Council of Fairfield County announced that it is shutting down in the face of financial and operational difficulties arising from the pandemic.

D.C. DEVELOPMENTS; CRITICISM OF TRUMP RISES
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said that that chamber is expected to vote on the CARES Act on Friday, following the Senate’s unanimous approval late yesterday. She also said a fourth stimulus plan will probably be forthcoming.

During a tele-town hall conference from his office today, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Connecticut’s 14th District) addressed small business proprietors and other individuals about what the CARES Act provides.

The state is facing “twin disasters,” he said: “The health care crisis as well as the economic catastrophe.” Of the latter, he said that while the belief is that CARES and other legislative measures are designed to blunt the virus’ effect on the economy, “No one knows how this ends.”

Himes said that if the crisis extends beyond “two, three, maybe four months, as it well might, we may have to come back to the well.”

He also said it was his belief that the direct payments to U.S. taxpayers – $1,200 to each adult per household, and $500 for each child, if an individual makes less than $75,000 or the household makes less than $150,000 – would begin to be made during the first or second week of April.

He further noted that the benefit diminishes as those income numbers approach $99,000 for individuals ($198,000 for couples), and “disappear” once those thresholds are reached.

The congressman also noted that the positive effects of social distancing appear to be growing, resulting in a decrease in the rate of growth of people catching the virus.

As for Trump’s declaration earlier this week that U.S. businesses should be “just raring to go by Easter,” Lamont today called it “bad, bad advice,” while Blumenthal went a step further, calling it “abysmal.”

And Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN: “You don’t make the timeline. The virus makes the timeline.”

“If you keep seeing this acceleration, it doesn’t matter what you say,” Fauci continued. “One week, two weeks, three weeks – you’ve got to go with what the situation on the ground is.”

Fauci’s remarks were echoed by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell during an appearance this morning on NBC’s “Today.”

“The virus is going to set the timeline,” Powell said. “The sooner we get the spread of the virus under control, people will regain confidence. When they become confident that is the case, they will very willingly open their businesses up, go back to work, the consumer will be spending. So I think the first order of business will be to get the spread of the virus under control and then resume economic activity.”

The Fed announced on Monday that it would buy unlimited bonds and take other measures to keep credit flowing, and has cut its benchmark interest rate to nearly zero.

The chairman told NBC that the CARES Act includes $425 billion that the Treasury Department could use to allow the Fed to boost its lending programs to $4.25 trillion.

While Powell acknowledged that the nation “may well be in recession,” he said the strength of its economy before the pandemic struck indicated that a recovery would be quick and sharp once the crisis is over.

“If we get the virus spread under control fairly quickly, then economic activity can resume, and we want to make that rebound as vigorous as possible,” the chairman said. “When it comes to this lending, we’re not going to run out of ammunition. That doesn’t happen.”

Meanwhile, the G-20 released a statement saying its members will be “injecting over $5 trillion into the global economy, as part of targeted fiscal policy, economic measures, and guarantee schemes to counteract the social, economic an financial impacts of the pandemic.”

Details on where that money would come from and how it would be distributed were not released; presumably it includes the $2 trillion CARES Act.

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