Home Economy COVID-19 testing goal within reach before May 20; some tweaks to guidelines

COVID-19 testing goal within reach before May 20; some tweaks to guidelines

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Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont focused on the continued ramping up of COVID-19 testing at today’s briefing, noting that the number of weekly tests has increased from about 18,000 a couple of weeks ago to roughly 29,000 now.

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Gov. Ned Lamont addresses the Fairfield county chamber. Bernie Weiss Photos

The state should surpass its goal of 42,000 a week sometime next week, he said, and that the goal is to have up to 100,000 a week being conducted “as we move through June.”

One of the criteria for the May 20 soft opening is conducting 42,000 weekly tests.

Over the last 24 hours, 5,916 tests were conducted, resulting in an additional 568 positive cases, to bring those respective totals to 138,424 and 34,333. Hospitalizations fell by 23 to 1,189, while 33 additional deaths brought that total to 3,041.

Fairfield County recorded another 176 positive cases, and another 12 deaths, bringing those totals to a respective 13,448 and 1,046. Hospitalizations declined by six to 378.

Stamford has the most positive COVID-19 cases in the state, with 2,946, followed by Bridgeport (2, 556), New Haven (2,032), Norwalk (1,776), Hartford (1,571), Waterbury (1,547), Danbury (1,518), West Haven (885), Hamden (796), Greenwich (721), New Britain (679) and Stratford (674).

Marna Borgstrom, president and CEO of the Yale New Haven Health System (YNHHS), said that that network expects to be conducting 5,000 tests per day by the end of this month, 10,000 per day by the end of June, and potentially 20,000 a day later this summer.

Auro Nair, executive vice president of The Jackson Laboratory in Farmington, said that his organization also expects to be conducting 20,000 daily tests in the short term.

More testing developments and partnerships will be coming soon, according to Josh Geballe, the state’s COO.

Progress at hospitals, PPE
Borgstrom also noted a systemwide decline in hospitalizations, ICU patients and patients on ventilators. YNHHS’s Greenwich Hospital, which at its peak had 126 of its roughly 200 beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, today has less than 40, with “a handful on ventilators.”

Early this morning, Lamont announced that Department of Public Health Commissioner Renée Coleman-Mitchell has been replaced on an interim basis by Connecticut Department of Social Services Commissioner Deidre Gifford.

Coleman-Mitchell has since issued a statement saying that her exit was not related to job performance. Asked if that was consistent with the administration’s viewpoint, Lamont’s chief of staff Paul Mounds replied: “The governor decided to go in a different direction. We wish Renee Coleman-Mitchell all the best in the future.”

Lamont – who told the Business Journal this morning that it was “still being worked out” whether Coleman-Mitchell had resigned or been dismissed – remained silent.

Also this morning, the governor announced that the state had received its single largest shipment to date of personal protective equipment (PPE) to combat COVID-19.

That equipment – 6 million surgical masks, 500,000 protective masks, 100,000 surgical gowns & 100,000 temporal thermometers – is being distributed to frontline workers and small businesses across the state. “We actually have our own stockpile – a 60-day stockpile,” Lamont said.

More details on reopening guidelines
Some of the rules for reopening are still in flux, as acknowledged by Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) Commissioner David Lehman at a webinar this afternoon. Case in point: The use of blow dryers at hair salons will now be allowed “as needed.” Hair dryers were forbidden in the original guidance.

In addition, restaurants with an existing liquor license can apply to their local municipality for permission to offer those beverages to outdoor diners. If the municipality does not respond in an expedited manner – which Lehman defined as seven to 10 days – that can be taken as an implicit okay.

Nail salons, movie theaters and music venues will remain closed during the first phase of reopening, though the commissioner indicated that they could be part of the second phase – expected to begin sometime around July 1 – or the third and final phase, provisionally expected to begin in August.

All businesses reopening will be required to self-certify on the DECD website that they are compliant with all state guidelines, after which they will receive a “Reopen CT” badge that should be publicly displayed.

Besides the reopening itself, Lehman said the key is to rebuild consumer confidence. Various state polls have indicated that only 20-30% of consumers would be willing to dine at a restaurant upon reopening. The success of physical distancing and other measures “will help to not only prevent the spread of the disease, but also build confidence in the economy,” he said.

Enforcement of face coverings, thorough washing of high-contact areas, and so on will be the purview of local law enforcement, Lehman said; local health inspectors may also be called upon. Repeat offenders could have their licenses ultimately revoked, he said.

Stamford Mayor David Martin took a harder line. “If we keep seeing the same problem, I’m going to shut the business down,” he declared. “We just don’t have time to goof around with somebody who’s trying to evade the system.”

Also appearing was Peter Denious, president and CEO of AdvanceCT, who noted that his organization was “close to rolling out” its long-awaited economic action plan when the pandemic hit. Now the focus is on working with DECD and the business community to get the economy back on its feet, he said.

The situation – with health, science and academics on one side, and the concerns of businesses and other stakeholders on the other – makes for “a delicate balance and a difficult line to walk,”  Denious said.

Pelosi unveils new $3 trillion package; McConnell unconvinced
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) revealed a $3 trillion-plus coronavirus relief package today, which includes close to $1 trillion in aid to states, cities and local governments, hazard pay for frontline health care workers, forgiveness of student debt and shoring up Medicaid and Medicare.

Nancy Pelosi.

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act is expected to be voted upon by the House as early as Friday, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) continues to question whether another round of aid is necessary.

The HEROES Act also would also deliver another $1,200 in direct cash to individuals, or up to $6,000 per household, and includes $175 billion in housing assistance to help pay rents and mortgages, as well as $75 billion for virus testing.

It would also continue, through January, the $600-per-week boost to unemployment benefits; add a 15% increase for food stamps; and provide an employee retention tax credit for employers.

Following Pelosi’s announcement, McConnell called the proposal a “big laundry list of pet priorities.”

The numbers
As of this writing, there are more than 1.36 million positive cases and over 81,500 virus-related deaths in the U.S., with over 220,000 recovered. Globally, there are over 4.2 million positive cases and in excess of 290,000 deaths, with almost 1.5 million recovered.

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