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COVID-19 LATEST: Deaths top 100; CT to receive about $1.45 billion from federal government

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Connecticut’s share of the recently passed $2 trillion CARES Act will come to about $1.45 billion, Gov. Ned Lamont announced today, as the state’s COVID-19 deaths passed 100.

Of the 1,700 tests conducted since yesterday, 267 people tested positive for the virus, 61 people have been hospitalized and 27 more have died. Those numbers bring the to-date totals to 18,300 tests, 3,824 positives, 827 hospitalizations and 112 deaths.

A county-by-county breakdown and other information from the Department of Public Health can be found here.

The governor said the data seems to indicate that men and women are essentially equally likely to test positive, but that men are more likely to succumb to the disease. While a lower percentage of people have been testing positive over the past few days, Lamont said it was too early to draw any conclusions.

An executive order to be signed tonight will reserve rooms at hotels and short-term rentals for essential workers only, Lamont said; it goes into effect tomorrow.

The governor said the CARES Act is not, as it has been characterized, a stimulus bill but a relief bill. The state’s $1.45 billion share will arrive “not before April 27 or so,” he said, adding that the $1,200 checks for qualifying Americans will begin to be issued on April 17, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

The $1.45 billion will not make up for the substantial revenue losses every state and municipality is facing, Lamont said. Connecticut is on pace for a roughly $500 million shortfall this fiscal year, which ends on June 30; the governor said that “80-90%” of that shortfall is due to COVID-related declines in income and sales tax revenue.

Even so, he said, the $2.5 billion in the state’s budget reserve fund (also known as the rainy day fund) puts Connecticut “in pretty good shape,” especially when compared with  other states, through at least June 30.

“THIS IS THE RAINY DAY”
Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management Melissa McCaw said she is projecting that Connecticut is facing “at least north of $100 million” in COVID-related costs that it will have to bear on its own. “Obviously, this is the rainy day,” she said. “We are well-positioned to weather this storm.”

While it took Connecticut roughly four years to dig itself out of the economic hole caused by the 2008-09 recession, McCaw and Lamont both indicated that, due to the economy’s strength before the virus hit, a much quicker recovery could be in the offing.

In addition, Lamont and McCaw will hold the state’s next Bond Commission meeting remotely on April 8, after which those monies will be delivered to Connecticut’s municipalities. McCaw said it usually takes three to four days for those funds to be delivered to the municipalities.

Lamont also spoke positively about CARES’ inclusion of $100 billion to reimburse hospitals for their COVID-related expenses. Connecticut’s share of that amount – “about 1 to 2%” – will arrive “hopefully within a week,” he said.

The governor expressed confidence that Congress will pass a fourth relief measure – “I hope in the next month or so” – that will address infrastructure and how to get the economy moving forward once the crisis has passed.

Department of Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell said that, as of yesterday, 57 of the state’s 215 nursing homes have reported virus-related infections among their populations. Besides separating COVID-positive persons from the rest of the residents, she said that the state is looking into possible relocation sites for those who have tested positive.

AROUND THE STATE
New Canaan’s Grace Farms Foundation has launched the Grace Farms Relief Fund for Connecticut, established with private donations totaling $2.5 million to help address the critical shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers in Fairfield and New Haven counties.

Sharon Prince, Grace Farms Foundation founder and CEO. Photo by Ryan Slack.

As of today, 120,000 respirator masks – including more than 40,000 N95 masks and 80,000 KN95 masks – have been delivered or are en route to local hospitals, first responders and COVID-19 clinics in Connecticut. In addition, more than 32,000 surgical masks, and 4,000 isolation coveralls have already been received by 13 area hospitals, COVID-19 clinics and 14 local townships’ first responders.

The foundation said that hundreds of thousands of additional respirator masks, gowns/coveralls and face shields are expected to arrive within days, and will be distributed again by New Canaan Fire Department volunteers to first responders in Fairfield County and health care workers at Community Health Centers, Stamford Health, Norwalk Hospital, Danbury Hospital and St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, and Yale New Haven Health, which serves six hospitals.

“As the COVID-19 crisis escalates, it is clear that pressing humanitarian issues can be solved when the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors collaborate locally and globally,” said Sharon Prince, Grace Farms Foundation founder and CEO. “At this pivotal moment, we coalesced networks and leaders ranging from local businesswomen to kindred innovative foundations, global corporations and our local government to earnestly identify, source and land legitimate PPE supplies in real time.”

Grace Farms Foundation also has organized the Grace Farms Alliance Against COVID-19, an effort composed of more than half a dozen partner organizations, including town of New Canaan Emergency Management, Hamilton Beach Brands Inc., Ningxia Yanbao Foundation and Helena Foundation to fight the pandemic.

Also today, Access Health CT extended the deadline for uninsured Connecticut residents to enroll in health insurance to April 17. The effective date of coverage for anyone who enrolls during the extension period will be May 1, while anyone enrolling before the end of today will have a coverage effective date of April 1.

Connecticut residents must be lawfully present in the U.S. not incarcerated to be eligible.

The only way to sign up for the New Special Enrollment Period is by calling 1-855-365-2428. Individuals who experience a qualifying life event (e.g. loss of coverage due to job change or unemployment) or qualify for Medicaid/Children’s Health Program (CHIP) can always enroll online, in-person or over the phone. All help is free.

“Over the last two weeks, nearly 1,400 residents have been able to enroll in affordable, high-quality health insurance plans thanks to a new special enrollment period offered by Access Health CT,” Lamont said. “No Connecticut resident should have to worry that COVID-19 or another health complication will compromise their financial security.”

Access Health also reminded customers to update their income as they or members of their household may be able to:

  • Increase the financial help they qualify for or become eligible for increased cost-sharing reductions to help pay for out-of-pocket expenses such as deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance amounts.
  • Change to a different insurance plan in a different metal tier, that may allow them to qualify for cost sharing reductions that help pay for out-of-pocket expenses like deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance amounts.
  • Become eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)/HUSKY Health.

Other information about the New Special Enrollment Period is available here.

D.C. DEVELOPMENTS
The U.S. Department of Labor said this morning that the seasonally adjusted number of unemployment claims for the week ending March 28 was 6,648,000, an increase of 3,341,000 from the revised total covering the week ended March 21.

The federal Labor Department said that Connecticut’s a seasonally adjusted total for the week ending March 28 was 33,182 claims, compared with 25,100 the previous week. However, the state Labor Department has reported that about 99,000 unemployment claims were made here between March 13 and 23.

At today’s briefing, Lamont said Connecticut Department of Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby had told him that the state recorded roughly 180,000 unemployment claims for the entirety of 2019, and 220,000 over the last 18 days.

Also today, the Pentagon said it “is responding” to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s request for 100,000 body bags, according to Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Michael Andrews. Federal health officials have warned the death toll from the virus could reach 100,000 to 240,000.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) announced today that she plans to establish a special committee in the U.S. House to oversee the disbursements of the $2 trillion CARES Act.

Pelosi

“We need to ensure those dollars are spent effectively and carefully,” Pelosi said. “We have no higher priority than making sure the money gets to those working families struggling to pay rent and put food on the table who need it most.”

A U.S. House vote would be needed to create the committee and fund its operations. Neither the House or the Senate is due to return to Washington until at least April 20.

Pelosi further said the bipartisan committee would be chaired by Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-South Carolina).

“This seems really redundant,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) said during a conference call with reporters, maintaining that regular House committees should have oversight over the management of the CARES Act distributions.

“I’m not quite sure if this is political,” McCarthy said.

Still facing criticism over his administration’s failure to provide hospitals and health care workers with the equipment they need, President Donald Trump tweeted this morning that such “complainers should have been stocked up and ready long before the crisis hit.”

“Massive amounts of medical supplies, even hospitals and medical centers, are being delivered directly to states and hospitals by the Federal Government,” Trump wrote. “Some have insatiable appetites & are never satisfied (politics?). Remember, we are a backup for them.”

As of this writing, there were over 236,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 5,600 deaths in the U.S., with more than 1 million confirmed cases and over 51,500 deaths globally.

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