Politics perhaps understandably took center stage at Gov. Ned Lamont’s press briefing today, as some party-line grumbling about how and when to reopen the state economy – and what Lamont called “some noise” from the White House – are growing in volume.
“It’s probably getting a little more political,” the governor allowed. He noted, however, that governors on both sides of the political aisle appear to be in accord on reopening their states in a careful and thoughtful way, rather than adhering to President Donald Trump’s insistence that large portions of the country should aim at reopening by May 1.
As for COVID-19 itself, another 1,532 tests have been conducted since yesterday, bringing that total to 45,841. Another 608 positive tests were recorded, for a total of 13,989, with an additional 19 hospitalizations and 23 deaths, bringing those totals to 1,779 and 671, respectively.
Fairfield County added 21 hospitalizations to bring that number to 731, and added another 25 deaths for a total of 287.
The county’s number of discharges are on the rise, the governor said, although specific numbers were not provided. Discharges played a part in the county’s adding a net of just 21 hospitalizations, he said.
The state’s supply of PPE (personal protective equipment) remains adequate, the state’s COO Josh Geballe said, adding that the aim is to build a stockpile of such equipment.
“We have enough for another week or so,” Lamont said. “That’s no way to run a railroad.”
He said that 10 shipments of PPE have been ordered, “and I’ll be delighted if two of them arrive.”
FUNDING THE RESPONSE
The governor said that, according to Office of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McCaw, the state has withstood about $450 million in coronavirus-related expenses. “Connecticut right now is doing better than a lot of other states,” Lamont said, noting the strength of its rainy day fund.
“That cash cushion is going to get squeezed,” he warned, but said he believed there would be enough to get the state through this fiscal year, which ends June 30, and into next fiscal year.
Lamont estimated the state’s unemployment rate at about 15% of the workforce, “and it could be rising to 20%.” He noted, however, that Department of Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby has reported that about half of the state’s unemployment claims have been processed, and that he is “pretty confident” that they will all be processed within the next 10 days or so.
TAX DEADLINES EXTENDED TO JULY
The Connecticut Department of Revenue Services (DRS) has extended the filing and payment deadlines of certain returns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, from May 31 to July 15, in accordance with filing and payment extensions recently announced by the IRS.
“In general, Connecticut tax filings are based on submission of the corresponding federal return,” acting Revenue Services Commissioner John Biello said. “The filing and payment extensions announced by DRS today keep Connecticut in line with recent federal updates and, in these difficult circumstances, offer taxpayers and tax professionals clarity and more time to prepare their returns.”
A listing of the returns affected by the new extension can be found here.
MAY 20, JULY 1 LOOM
The governor noted that he is keeping to his decision to keep nonessential businesses and schools closed until May 20, at which time – presumably aided by an influx of PPE and testing – he will decide on “who and where and how people can start getting back to work.”
He further noted that July 1 is when a number of bridge loans, loan forgiveness programs, and health care grace periods are set to expire, and said he expects the federal government will have to step up once again.
LAMONT UP, TRUMP DOWN
A new phone and digital poll by Sacred Heart University’s Institute for Public Policy in Fairfield shows significant approval for Lamont’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis and less for President Donald Trump.
General reaction to Lamont’s response indicated confidence in the way he and his team are managing the pandemic. The majority of respondents said they approve of the way with 67.2% saying they approve of how the governor is handling “communication to the public” and 65% expressing confidence about his “overall response and handling of the coronavirus crisis.”
Also, 51.6% reported they approve of the way Lamont is “addressing a plan for Connecticut residents and families,” while 45% approved of how he is “addressing a plan for businesses in the state.”
On the national front, 47.4% of surveyed Connecticut residents disapprove of Trump’s overall handling of the crisis, compared with 39.9% who approve.
GreatBlue conducted the 40-question, Connecticut-specific, scientific, telephone and digital survey of 1,000 state residents on behalf of the SHU Institute for Public Policy in partnership with the Hartford Courant between March 24 and April 3. Statistically, the sampling represents a margin for error of +/-3.02% at a 95% confidence level.
Lamont also took a swipe at Trump last night during a CNN interview with Chris Cuomo. Asked about Trump’s assertion earlier in the day – that “The president of the United States has the authority to do what the president has the authority to do, which is very powerful” – Lamont replied: “I’ll tell you what I saw when I heard that: This is a president who likes to throw verbal grenades.”
“Two weeks ago, he told your brother (New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo) and myself, ‘I want a mandatory quarantine of the New York metropolitan area’,” Lamont said. “We called him up and talked him down. We got something more reasonable.
“Now, two weeks later, he wants the mandatory opening up of everything. I just think he likes us to run down these rabbit holes,” Lamont added. “The governor is going to make the determination what’s best for their state. We care deeply about the health and safety of our citizens and get our economy going in a prudent, thoughtful way.”
“The boat is very tippy right now,” Lamont said. “This is the time for steady leadership. Let’s not throw any more of these verbal hand grenades.”
Also appearing by video conferencing were Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton (R) and Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling (D), both of whom had nothing but favorable things to say about how Lamont and his administration have performed during the crisis.
“There’s time for politics later on,” Boughton said. “Right now this is about healing our state, our country and our communities.” Saying that “I want to get open too,” the mayor said he’d prefer to err on the side of caution than reopen too soon and ultimately have to impose another lengthy shelter-in-place.
“It’s tough medicine to take, but we’ve got to take it,” he said.
“There is no Republican or Democratic way to deal with this pandemic,” Rilling added. “Listening to each other, and learning from each other, is critical.”
CASINOS EXTEND TEMP CLOSURES; FOXWOODS CEO QUITS
As reported earlier today, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun both announced that they have extended their temporary closures, which went into effect March 17, to April 30.
In addition, Foxwoods President and CEO John James today resigned, effective immediately, after serving in the job for about nine months. Senior Vice President, Resort Operations Jason Guyot will serve as interim CEO as a search for a permanent replacement gets underway.
TRUMP’S “OPENING THE COUNTRY COUNCIL” COUNTERED
BY SEN. CHRIS MURPHY’S “AMERICA FORWARD COMMISSION”
Trump was expected today to formally introduce the members of his “Opening the Country Council,” which in his words will consist of “Not only the greatest minds, but the greatest minds in numerous different businesses, including the business of politics and reason,” today.
Yesterday he claimed that there would be a “transportation committee, a manufacturing committee” and a “religious leaders’ committee.”
Trump also indicated that he could ask New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and California Gov. Gavin Newsom to join the effort.
In addition to their memberships, the scope of what the council and/or committees will do is uncertain.
The new group(s) will be separate from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, whose members include Vice President Mike Pence and Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx.
U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) have announced legislation to create the America Forward Commission, a panel of independent experts tasked with developing a broad strategy of how and when to safely reopen the country.
“We’re in the middle of a public health crisis that’s caused an economic crisis – not the other way around,” Murphy said. “And although Trump would rather open the economy even if it will cost more American lives, we must first deal with the public health crisis by deploying widespread testing and mitigating community spread.”
Murphy said the federal effort should mirror what several governors are doing at the regional level, “by establishing an official national advisory body made up of nonpartisan experts to provide guidance to help us navigate these daunting times. We can’t recover from this crisis if we rely on the same politically minded advisers around Trump that got us here in the first place, and that’s what this legislation seeks to fix.”
The legislation will require the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine to appoint 10 to 15 members, with at least one expert in the fields of public health, economics, transportation, medicine, national security and state and local government.
The commission would make real-time recommendations to policymakers, and the White House Coronavirus Task Force would be required to respond in writing to the Commission’s recommendations within one week of receipt, and to publicly post its responses.
As for Fauci, he told the Associated Press today that the U.S. still lacks the testing and tracking procedures necessary to begin reopening the nation’s economy. “We have to have something in place that is efficient and that we can rely on, and we’re not there yet,” he said.
Fauci also called Trump’s May 1 target date for reopening the economy “a bit overly optimistic.”
As of this writing, there are about 590,000 positive cases and more than 25,000 virus-related deaths in the U.S., and over 1.95 million positive cases and more than 125,000 deaths globally.