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As Barbershops, Hair Salons, Casinos Open, $619.9 Million State Deficit Projected Due to COVID-19

Hair Stylist Georgeanne DeCosta works in close clipping the hair of her 5-year-old son Rock that is going to grow out into a mohawk in their home on May 12, 2020 in Shelton, CT. Photo credit: Joe Amon, CT Public Radio. (Courtesy of CTMirror.org)

The state’s fiscal forecast is grim, but barbers, hair salons and casinos all reopened on Monday.

By Jim Welch, Nicole Leonard, and Frankie Graziano, Connecticut Public Radio for CTMirror.org

West Hartford-specific information provided by Ronni Newton, We-Ha.com 

Hair salons, barbershops, and casinos reopened in Connecticut Monday, after being closed for more than two months due to COVID-19 restrictions and precautions. Along with the good news of these reopenings, there were grim new projections Monday from the state comptroller about the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Comptroller Kevin Lembo announced a projected deficit Monday of $619.9 million for Fiscal Year 2020. Lembo noted the loss of over 50% of jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many people in Connecticut are hurting as the pandemic continues to impact every sector of the economy,” Lembo said in a statement Monday.

Lembo said $2.5 billion in the Connecticut Budget Reserve (Rainy Day) Fund could close the deficit in the wake of the pandemic in the short term, but it will not be enough in the long-term if COVID-19 continues to impact the economy.

Reports of COVID-19 cases decline

Gov. Ned Lamont announced 539 new cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut Monday – bringing the overall total to 42,740. There were 9,274 tests reported.

Twenty additional coronavirus-related deaths were reported in Connecticut Monday for an overall total of 3,964. There have been 9,559 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and 7,124 discharged, according to public health data.

Test results were reported in a different way on Monday. Data released by the state included this explanation: “Beginning today, this daily update now includes COVID-19 cases and deaths broken down as either ‘confirmed’ or ‘probable.’ Previous reports used a combined number. Probable cases of COVID-19 involve persons who have not had confirmed laboratory testing (RT-PCR) performed, but whose symptoms indicate they are very likely to have a COVID-19 infection. In Connecticut, most of the probable COVID-19 cases involve persons whose death certificates list COVID-19 disease or SARS-CoV2 as a cause of death or a significant condition contributing to death.”

In West Hartford, the combined total of confirmed and positive cases of COVID-19 was reported at 663 Monday, which includes 611 confirmed cases and 52 probably cases based on 2,722 tests. There have been 112 fatalities.

Hartford Healthcare officials said they continue to record declining numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Dr. Ajay Kumar, chief clinical officer, said there are 98 COVID-19 patients across the system’s acute care hospitals, including 35 people at Hartford Hospital.

“That’s the lowest number we have seen for a long time,” he said.

Kumar also noted that the utilization of ventilators has dropped with the decline in hospitalizations. About 14 percent of patients are on ventilators as of Monday.

Public health and medical experts predict there will be fewer COVID-19 cases going into the summer months, but they say spikes in cases are possible and there could be another wave of disease outbreak in the fall. If those events do happen, Kumar said they would likely be to a lesser degree than what communities saw in the first wave of the pandemic.

“We’ve reached the point here that we’ve flattened the curve quite well,” he said. “We’ve actually managed in such a way that the low-level activity we can manage and contain and mitigate as we go forward. It would not be as pronounced as it has been and hopefully will continue to be controlled as we go forward.”

Hair salons and barbershops reopen

“This experience has been very long and very trying,” said Alexandra Marnel, owner of Capture Salon, in New Haven. Marnel said Monday morning that she has missed her clients and has been working for several weeks to get the hair salon ready to reopen. She said the salon has few appointments left for the next few weeks.

The same is true at Elmwood Barbershop in West Hartford. Owner Chris Niles said he is personally booked through July, and the second barber in the shop only has a few openings. Niles said Monday morning that he is ready, though his shop won’t open until Tuesday.

“Sanitation has always been the most important thing in my barbershop,” Niles said.

Hair salons and barbershops in Connecticut are reopening under strict regulations.

Rules announced by the Department of Public Health and Lamont include:

  • Appointments are required with no waiting rooms allowed.
  • Workstations must be six feet apart
  • Clients must wear a mask covering their nose and mouth.
  • A clean smock must be provided to each client.
  • Employees must wear a facemask and face shield or eye protection.

Barbershops and hair salons had first been preparing to welcome back customers for a May 20 date as part of Lamont’s announced Phase 1 reopening plan. The governor later pushed back that date, citing concerns from owners about being ready.

Mobile testing unit makes stop in the North End of Hartford

The Hartford Healthcare mobile testing program stopped at the Artists Collective in the North End of Hartford Monday. The mobile testing program is designed to help reach underserved populations across Connecticut with free COVID-19 testing. The program has visited nursing homes, homeless shelters and Department of Corrections sites.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin speaks at a press conference to announce a pop-up COVID-19 test site set up by Hartford HealthCare in the parking lot at the Artists Collective in Hartford’s North End.

“Healthy equality is about bringing people what they need” said Sarah Lewis, vice president of health equity for Hartford Healthcare, in an interview Monday. Lewis said the North End was targeted because there are many residents with underlying conditions, people may not have a car for drive-up testing and the free testing opens the screening up to everyone.

“The virus is still here and it’s going to be here for a while,” she said. “We still need to establish these partners and have a presence in communities.”

Trinity Health of New England announced Monday that it has opened a call center for COVID-19 testing. Trinity Health offers free, drive-through testing at St. Francis Hospital, in Hartford; Saint Mary’s Hospital, in Waterbury; and Johnson Memorial Hospital, in Stafford. The call center’s number is 203-709-6848.

Casinos reopen to the public 

Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun reopened Monday, despite concerns from Lamont.

Lamont said the state put electronic billboards on roads warning those headed to casinos about COVID-19 risks with targeted messages to visitors over 65.

Patrons at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun were greeted by staff with thermal cameras to take their temperature. Security also monitored attendance to only allow 25% of capacity. Once inside, patrons saw  plexiglass at table games and the closure of certain slot machines to encourage social distancing.

The casinos are on tribal land which are sovereign nations not held to the state’s COVID-19 regulations. Both resorts have agreed to Lamont’s recommendations to not allow out-of-state guests to stay at hotels on their property and only allow outdoor and take-out dining.

Returning Foxwoods customer Donald McKim was taking things cautiously.

“I just want to make sure – before I go in there, try to enjoy myself, and have fun – that everything is safe first,” McKim said.

Among indicators McKim watched for – the use of hand sanitizer and face masks.

Valerie Adams was a part of group making their return to the casino.

“Life in quarantine sucks and it’s good to get out,” Adams said. “It should’ve been earlier.”

Her sister-in-law Jackie Woodland agreed.

“Too long,” Woodland said. “If you’re going to get [COVID-19], you’re going to get it – that’s all there is to it so, let’s get on with our lives.”

Reprinted with permission of The Connecticut Mirror. 

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