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COVID-19 LATEST: Momentum building for possible reopening of some CT businesses in June

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The loosening of social distancing efforts and a concurrent reopening of some businesses could begin in June, according to one of the co-chairs of the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Board.

Nooyi

Speaking at Gov. Ned Lamont’s daily briefing, Indra Nooyi said that any such moves will be done “very carefully, in small steps,” and that they would likely continue through the end of the year.

Nooyi said the advisory board is looking at four “gears” to determine various scenarios to be presented to the governor by May 20, the date Lamont had set as a deadline for such a decision – and which some had taken as the date when some businesses and schools might reopen.

The key gear is public health, she said, along with economic impact, education and community support.

Whether the reopening will begin by county, business sector or some other metric is still being studied, she said.

“We are developing a range of scenarios to put some numbers behind it, to suggest sequences to the governor before May 20,” she said. “The business and public health teams are working very well together. We should be in a good position to give you a well-thought out plan” by that date.

Nooyi’s co-chair, Dr. Albert Ko, said that increased testing will play a key role. While the current infection-to-test ratio has been averaging about 30%, “we want it to be at 10%.”

The state performed another 1,579 tests, which revealed another 631 positive cases, bringing those totals to 71,497 and 23,100, respectively. Hospitalizations, a key indicator of whether virus incidents are in decline, fell by 25 to 1,947, while deaths increased by 95 to 1,639.

County now has over 10,000 positive cases
Fairfield County recorded another 125 positive cases and 31 deaths, bringing those respective totals to 10,008 and 615. Hospitalizations fell by 19.

Stamford still has the most positive COVID-19 cases in the state, with 2,182, followed by Bridgeport (1,577), Norwalk (1,365), Danbury (1,295), New Haven (1,304), Waterbury (1,014), Hartford (783), Greenwich (610), West Haven (607), Hamden (498) and Stratford (468).

Putting what should be an interesting spin on the employment situation for the nearly 40,000 Connecticut residents who have filed unemployment claims since March 13, Lamont touted the fact that Connecticut “didn’t close as much of the state as some of our peers did …. We kept a lot more of our economy open than our peers.”

As examples, he said that while Texas closed its parks and Michigan its gardening and landscaping businesses, Connecticut has not. In fact, he said, 62% of the state’s businesses have remained open, including day cares centers and grocery stores.

He then acknowledged that some 150,000 employees – which he said primarily work in restaurants, bars and hospitality – are unemployed, but that his administration remains in talks with those sectors’ associations, chambers of commerce, the casinos, and “our friends in labor” on how best to proceed.

Josh Geballe, the state’s COO, said PPE continues to arrive, including a delivery yesterday of 2 million surgical masks, with 20 deliveries already made to nursing homes and various state agencies. He further noted that state inspections have been conducted at 115 of Connecticut’s 215 nursing homes to determine and, if necessary, direct best practices.

Connecticut now has some 700 beds available for recovering coronavirus patients who are nursing home residents, Geballe said, with about 100 of those now occupied.

Fasano asks Lamont, SEBAC to postpone raises to fund nonprofits
Today, Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano (R-North Haven) wrote to Lamont and the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition’s (SEBAC) chief negotiator Daniel Livingston to ask that they consider delaying scheduled state employee pay increases. Instead, Fasano asked they direct those funds to support the state’s struggling nonprofits.

Fasano

As approved under the 2017 SEBAC deal and the state budget, state employee pay increases – which include a 3.5% general wage increase and an annual step increase of 2% – are scheduled to go into effect July 1. The raises are estimated to cost the state $119 million in the General Fund and $15.3 million in the Special Transportation Fund.

“At a time when Connecticut residents, nonprofits and social service providers are struggling significantly, the state should consider delaying these raises and instead directing those funds to support the state’s nonprofit providers who make up our safety net services that help the most vulnerable populations,” Fasano wrote.

“Nonprofits have sounded the alarm that many are on the brink of financial disaster … they are struggling to get access to protective equipment and their revenues are eroding,” he added. “They have furloughed employees and are considering further action to control the costs of staffing.

Delaying the raises would “mean someone else who works at a nonprofit can go back to work and provide needed care for someone who is physically, mentally or emotionally struggling,” Fasano wrote. “It means more funding can be directed to lifesaving PPE supplies. It could give our nonprofits the boost they need to help thousands of residents survive the various crises they now face.”

D.C. DEVELOPMENTS
The U.S. House of Representatives is today expected to vote on the $480 billion coronavirus relief package that was passed by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday. While that is expected to easily win approval, a separate vote today on the creation of a new subcommittee that will oversee the disbursement of the $2 trillion CARES package is expected to be marked by controversy.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) has maintained that the new House Oversight and Reform subcommittee is necessary to determine if cases of fraud and abuse are taking place, and to examine the federal government’s overall response. It will supplement the work of other groups tracking the money, including a committee of inspectors general, a congressional panel of experts and a special Treasury Department official.

The new 12-member panel, with a 7-5 Democratic majority, will also have the power to subpoena Trump administration officials and conduct depositions. Various Republican lawmakers have voiced objections over the panel’s creation.

Blumenthal among 10 senators seeking additional investigations of Trump

Blumenthal

Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) was one of 10 U.S. Senate Democrats who today called for investigations into the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response.

“The Trump administration appears to have made decisions about distributing life-saving supplies based on the electoral concerns of President Trump and his political allies rather than the most urgent public health needs,” according to the group.

The senators also raised concerns about Jared Kushner’s involvement in Project Airbridge – a joint effort between FEMA and private companies to transport such supplies from other countries to the United States. Indications are that Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law “may have fast-tracked shipments at the requests of donors and other friends,” the group maintains.

“This confusion has been exacerbated by President Trump’s public statements suggesting that governors’ political support for his administration could influence how much support they receive from the federal government,” the lawmakers wrote to the inspectors general of FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services. “This obfuscation underscores the need for clarity as to how decisions regarding the seizure and redistribution of supplies are being made, and whether or not they are tainted with political interference.”

In addition to Blumenthal, the group includes Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Kamala Harris (D-California), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland).

Blumenthal, Warren, and Markey also sent a letter to the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, the new entity established by the CARES Act and given broad authority to oversee the COVID-19 response, to investigate the nature of the White House’s actions.

The trio expressed concerns over reports that the administration may have delayed payments to American taxpayers in order to attach Trump’s name to their checks, solely for either vanity or political benefit; and that Trump inserted “crass political propaganda into his public briefings, which, if created during employee work hours, could be in violation of campaign laws, like the Hatch Act.”

Such “incidents appear to indicate that the Trump administration has infused political and partisan interests into its response to both the public health and economic crises,” the senators wrote. “Americans should not have to wonder whether their lives are being put at risk by the President’s concern for his political prospects amidst a public health and economic calamity.”

THE NUMBERS
As of this writing, there are more than 856,000 positive cases and over 47,000 virus-related deaths in the U.S., with about 80,000 recovered. Globally, there are almost 2.7 million positive cases and over 187,000 deaths, with more than 732,000 recovered.

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