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Group of CT Senate Dems question May 20 reopening; Lamont stays on course

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A group of 11 Connecticut Senate Democrats have written to Gov. Ned Lamont questioning the prudence of starting to reopen some state businesses on May 20 – concerns that the governor tried to assuage during today’s briefing.

COVID-19 westportThe signatories include Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney (D-New Haven) and state Sen. Saud Anwar (D-South Windsor), a medical doctor with specializations in pulmonology and critical care medicine who serves as vice chair of the legislature’s Public Health Committee.

“The guidelines set by your Reopen Advisory Group on May 1 indicate that 42,000 tests per week are required to begin reopening,” the senators wrote, “but 140,000 tests per week are needed to prevent new outbreaks. When will either of these targets be met and can you assure us that sufficient testing materials can be sourced to maintain these testing levels?”

The lawmakers also asked the governor to define when adequate health care capacity and personal protective equipment (PPE) supply might be in hand. They further expressed concerns over whether contact tracing measures would be fully in place by May 20 – an issue also raised by Connecticut Business and Industry Association President and CEO Joe Brennan at a webinar earlier today.

Lamont said he was confident that enough testing and contact testing would be available. “Could we do more? Yeah,” he said. “But I think we have the right balance going forward now.”

The governor predicted that, through partnerships with Yale New Haven Health, Genesys, Jackson Laboratory, Hartford Healthcare, Quest and CVS – the last of which is opening another 12 drive-thru testing sites tomorrow – the state will be conducting 42,000 weekly tests by next week and “100,000 and beyond” in June.

Josh Geballe, the state’s COO, said Connecticut is “locked in” to conduct 70,000 weekly tests by May 20.

Since yesterday, 6,619 tests were conducted, resulting in an additional 609 positive cases, to bring those respective totals to 149,562 and 35,464. Hospitalizations fell by 55 to 1,103, while 94 additional deaths brought that total to 3,219.

Fairfield County recorded an additional 200 positive cases and another 25 deaths, bringing those totals to a respective 13,836 and 1,093. Hospitalizations declined by 10 to 362.

Stamford has the most positive COVID-19 cases in the state, with 2,983, followed by Bridgeport (2,682), New Haven (2,090), Norwalk (1,821), Hartford (1,651), Waterbury (1,589), Danbury (1,553), West Haven (911), Hamden (824), Greenwich (735), New Britain (731) and Stratford (695).

DECD webinar
Appearing at today’s webinar hosted by Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) Commissioner David Lehman, Brennan of the CBIA said that his organization and its affiliated consulting firm Connstep partnered with the state to distribute 500,000 masks to essential businesses of 50 or fewer employees. Connstep is in the process of getting more PPE into the hands of additional small businesses that are having difficulties sourcing the equipment on their own.

However, Brennan also expressed concern that contact tracing be done quickly in the case of any outbreaks in order to find the source; otherwise, businesses might be forced to close again, something he said would be catastrophic.

Also appearing was Connecticut Restaurant Association Chairman Dan Meiser, who is pushing for the state to allow 50% capacity for indoor dining on June 3. Meiser said that  thanks to May and June’s being historically wet months and the lack of patios and other outdoor seating arrangements, many restaurants “will be left out” of the May 20 reopening.

Invoking the 14-day period that health officials say must pass without incident to mitigate infections, Meiser noted that June 3 is 14 days after May 20.

“We absolutely understand that this is a hot-button issue,” he said, but “finding a way to help save these small businesses that have been hurt so viciously” by the virus is critical.

Thames

DECD Deputy Commissioner Glendowlyn Thames, also present, said the department should have more information on how businesses can acquire the necessary PPE before reopening by Monday at the latest.

Thames also said the self-certification materials necessary to reopen are now available on the DECD’s website. The resulting badges can be displayed on a business’s website, storefront, and other collateral material – all part of the effort to instill public confidence, she said.

 

$111 million for school districts
Connecticut is receiving $111 million in federal coronavirus relief aid for its school districts to support continued learning and address educational disruptions.

The funding was awarded by the U.S. Department of Education under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSERF) of the CARES Act. It will complement the $27.8 million already announced for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund.

ESSERF is the main federal funding stream dedicated to supporting the state’s pre-K through 12 system during the COVID-19 crisis. The federal government allows for significant flexibility in how the state and local school districts spend the grant so that existing education funds can be repurposed to areas of highest need, mitigate fiscal impacts, and immediately address educational disruptions.

Trump: New federal relief bill “dead on arrival”
The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s (D-California) $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill, is “dead on arrival,” according to President Donald Trump.

The bill – which is expected to pass the House tomorrow – includes nearly $1 trillion for states and cities to avoid laying off police, firefighters and other essential workers; earmarks $75 billion for virus testing; and includes another round of $1,200 direct cash payments to qualifying Americans, extends unemployment benefits, and establishes a rent and mortgage relief fund.

Republicans have indicated they are not in favor of another stimulus bill with such a huge price tag, following the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that was signed into law in late March. Adding to the uncertain chances of the bill’s passage in the Republican-controlled Senate is the inclusion of language that would in effect mandate that states send all registered voters a ballot to vote from home, offer online and same-day voter registration, and expand early voting.

Asked yesterday if he saw the need for the HEROES Act, Trump said: “I don’t know. It depends. Certainly not the package that I saw today. Basically, if you look at that package, what they want more than anything else is – it’s a voting package. They want to be able to make sure that Republicans can’t win an election by putting in all sorts of mail-in ballots.”

The numbers
As of this writing, there are more than 1.4 million positive cases and over 84,500 virus-related deaths in the U.S., with about 245,000 recovered. Globally, there are more than 4.4 million positive cases and in excess of 300,000 deaths, with over 1.56 million recovered.

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