COVID-19 hospitalizations increased for the first time in nearly two weeks, although Gov. Ned Lamont indicated that the state still plans to allow some businesses to reopen on May 20, at today’s daily briefing.
Josh Geballe, the state’s COO, said that “the concept is a rolling average,” appearing confident that the May 20 date will remain in place unless the general trend reverses.
Breaking a streak of 12 consecutive days of declining hospitalizations, the Department of Public Health reported that 36 more had taken place over the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 1,500.
Of 3,313 new tests, 648 positive cases were recorded, bringing those totals to 108,643 and 30,621, respectively. The state also recorded another 77 deaths, bringing that number to 2,633.
In Fairfield County, there are now 12,360 positive cases and 935 deaths. Hospitalizations rose by 12 to 519.
Stamford has the most positive COVID-19 cases in the state, with 2,788, followed by Bridgeport (2,156), New Haven (1,733), Norwalk (1,641), Danbury (1,452), Waterbury (1,426), Hartford (1,217), West Haven (792), Greenwich (699), Hamden (684) and Stratford (595).
School, summer camp plans
This morning, Lamont announced that all K-12 schools would remain closed for the remainder of the academic year.
“I wanted to be ‘The Education Governor.’ That was going to be my priority,” he said. “Now I’m the guy who says we can’t continue the school year in this cycle.”
The governor said that State Department of Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona had reported over 30,000 emails and other communications from parents, teachers, superintendents and other stakeholders on whether to reopen schools.
“Passions were deep,” Lamont said, “but the feeling was pretty strong that this was not the time to send kids back to the classroom.”
Cardona said that some kind of graduation recognition ceremonies would be held – highly unlikely to be in-person – and that guidance for summer school programs will be announced later this month. “We’d like to shoot for July” for classes to start, he said, with classes limited to 10 children.
The Education Department is already planning a phased re-entry for the fall, Cardona said. An actual opening date will be dependent on summer trends vis-a-vis the virus, he said, but the department prefers to make an announcement as soon as possible.
Office of Early Childhood Commissioner Beth Bye announced that summer camps will be allowed to reopen at their discretion beginning on June 29, subject to having appropriate COVID-19 protection measures in place. Camps will probably be allowed to have “pods” of 30 children divided into groups of 10. Some guidance is available on the office’s website, with additional guidance to be announced by May 15, Bye said.
An announcement regarding community colleges and universities’ moving forward will be made tomorrow, Lamont said.
In the meantime, Geballe said that the state Department of Labor has now processed more than 400,000 unemployment claims and paid out just short of $1 billion in benefits. He acknowledged, however, that it can still be difficult to get immediate responses to inquiries from department staff.
Lamont also acknowledged another car rally outside his residence last night by protesters seeking a quicker reopening. Noting that one sign read, “Give me liberty of give me death,” the governor said: “You can be free to be dumb if you want to, but not if it endangers others.”
Trump: “We did everything right”; Virus Task Force winding down
With the U.S. coronavirus death toll crossing the 70,000 mark today, President Donald Trump continued encouraging states to reopen.
“Now it’s time to go back to work,” Trump said at the White House. “If we had done things in a different way, we would have lost much more lives, much more than 2 million people. We did it the right way, we did everything right.”
Twenty-four states have partially reopened – a sign that the economy will soon recover, Trump said.
“Two months ago, we had the greatest economy in the history of the world, the best employment numbers we ever had in history,” he said. “We are going to do it again and that’s what we are starting and I view these last couple of days as the beginning.
“We are going to build the greatest economy in the world again and it’s going to happen pretty fast,” Trump declared.
Later this afternoon came word that the White House Coronavirus Task Force will begin winding down operations by the end of the month.
CNN reported that a senior White House official told it that the task force “will be phased down around Memorial Day. We will continue to have key medical experts advising (Trump) daily and accessible to press throughout the coming months ahead.”
That news comes about 24 hours after reports that an internal White House document indicated that the federal government is expecting some 200,000 new coronavirus cases each day by the end of May, compared with about 25,000 daily cases now. Daily deaths in the U.S. – which now stand at about 1,750 – could reach 3,000 on June 1, according to the report.
New $800 billion-plus relief package under discussion
In Congress, Democrats are working out details of a new $800 billion-plus COVID relief package, which is expected to include another direct cash payment to qualifying American citizens, as well as funds for states and businesses to continue operating.
They are also calling for money to continue to ramp up testing nationwide. Currently the nation is conducting an average of 240,000 tests per day – far less than the daily 500,000-700,000 tests the Harvard Global Health Institute has said is necessary before the country can safely reopen.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) were among 42 Senate Democrats to send a letter to Trump today, maintaining that he needs to provide further clarity and action on fast, free testing.
“We are deeply troubled by the lack of detail and strategy in your testing blueprint, and we fundamentally reject the notion that the federal government bears this little responsibility in increasing testing capacity,” the senators wrote to Trump.
The White House is required to submit to Congress by May 24 a national testing plan under the coronavirus response legislation signed into law last month to provide aid to small businesses. That $484 billion legislative package includes $25 billion for testing.
Although Trump has insisted that “Anybody who wants a test can get a test,” and that the country has an abundance of “beautiful” tests, the Democrats disagreed.
“Your Administration needs to do much more to stand up enough testing to effectively trace, control, and suppress the spread of the virus, and it is essential that you do so in a manner that is transparent and accountable,” they wrote. “The health of our nation – physically, behaviorally, and economically – depends on it.”
As for the relief bill itself, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said it needs to include liability protections for the hospitals, health care providers and businesses that are operating and reopening in the pandemic.
“Testing, tracking, treatments,” he added on the Senate floor today. “Our task ahead will be to keep seeking thoughtful solutions.”
According to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California), the bill would seek to deliver about $500 billion to states and as much as $300 billion to counties and cities, which could be spread out over several years.
Pelosi told reporters Tuesday on Capitol Hill that the package will be “just very directly related to saving lives, the livelihood and the life of our democracy.”
As of this writing, there are more than 1.19 million positive cases and over 70,000 virus-related deaths in the U.S., with over 162,000 recovered. Globally, there are about 3.63 million positive cases and over 254,000 deaths, with more than 1.18 million recovered.