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As Coronavirus Arrives in Connecticut, Planning in West Hartford and Statewide Intensifies and Restrictions Begin

The coronavirus has the potential to be more deadly and widespread than previously thought. (Courtesy of CTMirror.org)

The Town of West Hartford has set up a webpage with resources regarding coronavirus, and plans to follow state guidelines issued Monday regarding postponing any events that involve more than 100 people.

By Ronni Newton

Statewide there has been a shift from contingency planning and anticipating when COVID-19 might arrive to enacting protocols now that two residents have had a presumptive positive test for the virus and two others who live in New York but work at hospitals in Connecticut have also tested positive.

Following a call between state officials and municipal and education leaders Monday evening, West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor and Town Manager Matt Hart said that while the state is not imposing restrictions or mandates at this time, they are making strong suggestions that West Hartford will be following regarding travel and public gatherings.

Gov. Ned Lamont held a press conference Monday morning at Bristol Hospital, and announced that out-of-state travel by state employees will be temporarily suspended, and requested meetings with contractors located out of state instead by held via teleconference, CTNewsJunkie.com reported.

The governor also recommended postponement or cancellation of events involving more than than 100 people.

Cantor said Lamont noted during the call that feedback from governors in states where there are more cases of the virus – such as Washington and New York – was: “We wish we had done this sooner. No one worried that they over-reacted.”

Connecticut has not declared a state of emergency, but has partially activated its emergency operations systems, Cantor said.

According to an update issued by the governor’s office Monday evening, 56 Connecticut residents have now been tested for the coronavirus, and two individuals have now tested positive.

“On Monday afternoon, the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) State Laboratory identified a presumptive positive case of COVID-19 involving a second Connecticut resident,” the Monday evening press release states. “More information regarding the second positive case will be available after the patient and their family have been notified.”

The first presumptive positive test of a resident, reported on Sunday involves someone from Wilton. That individual was not identified, but according to a news release from the governor’s office, the patient is between 40-50 years old, and is being treated at Danbury Hospital. The patient had recently traveled to California, and according to information provided by the governor’s office, the patient is thought to have become infected during that trip.

The Wilton case is not related to the cases announced Friday and Saturday – one involving a New York State resident who works at Danbury and Norwalk hospitals and the other involving a community physician who lives in New York State but does rounds at Bridgeport Hospital.

“This case is considered a presumptive positive case until it is confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” Lamont’s office said of the case involving the Wilton resident. “Extensive contact tracing is being done on this case. All people who have had direct, face-to-face contact with this person are being instructed to stay home and self-isolate. Risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 is considered low for people who had contact with an individual who does not have COVID-19 and does not have symptoms. In other words, a contact of a contact is considered low risk.”

The state received an additional testing kit over the weekend, and now has the capacity to test 1,200 people for COVID-19. The Department of Public Health’s (DPH) laboratory in Rocky Hill has the capacity to complete 15-20 tests per day, but testing capabilities have now been approved for LabCorps, and Quest Diagnostics – which has several locations in the West Hartford area – will be soon be able to test as well.

“All individuals being tested by these facilities must be referred by a physician in advance. Nobody should arrive at any of these facilities requesting to be tested,” the news release from the governor’s office states. “Any positive test results that are conducted by each of these providers will be reported to DPH to be calculated and reported in the state’s testing data.”

As the volume of people being tested ramps up, Cantor said it’s likely that many more cases will be discovered, but state experts said that 80% will have only minor symptoms.

The DPH recommends that anyone who believes they have the symptoms of COVID-19 (cough, fever, shortness of breath) should contact their healthcare provider, and those with general questions are urged to visit ct.gov/coronavirus or call 2-1-1.

West Hartford actions

The Town of West Hartford created a webpage Monday to keep residents informed, and Cantor and Hart said it will be updated as needed.

Statewide, communities are being encouraged to cancel or postpone events involving 100 or more people. New Haven officials already announced Monday that the city’s St. Patrick’s Day has been postponed indefinitely, but a decision regarding the Hartford parade had not yet been announced.

“They did say that while younger people are not as much at risk, they can carry the virus,” Cantor said. Those who are 70 and older, or who have weaker immune systems, should not be in big crowds.

“The Town and West Hartford Public Schools are working in partnership with the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District to mitigate the impact to our community, however, our best defense against the spread of the disease is individuals taking the proper precautions and preparations,” the town’s webpage states.

Hart said this situation is very different from a weather event or other hazardous situation, and in this case it’s the Department of Public Health taking the lead, with the support of the governor’s office and other state agencies.

“We are documenting everything in case a State of Emergency is enacted,” Cantor said, which would allow the town to recoup any costs incurred.

West Hartford is not activating an Emergency Operations Center in the way the town would with a weather event, but rather a virtual emergency communications plan.

“We don’t want all of the critical decision makers in the same room,” Cantor said.

As of now Town Council and committee meetings will still take place, but those may end up being virtual as well, said Cantor. “We would rather be cautious.”

“We’re trying to put out information for individuals, families, organizations, businesses, houses of worship,” Hart said. “We’re going to be adhering to state guidelines regarding events under our control, and are encouraging other organizations to do the same.”

Announcements regarding specific events are expected shortly as organizers engage in their own discussions.

“We can expect the situation to remain glued, and we will likely hear about more restrictions,” Hart said.

Hart and Cantor both urged residents to sign up with the town and state emergency alert systems.

“You have to register on Everbridge to get the communications,” Cantor said. She said she will be sending out an update in the next day or two summarizing the town’s plans, and future updates as the virus progresses.

Cantor said she expects coronavirus to reach West Hartford at some point. “There are no walls between states,” she said.

Many businesses are allowing their employees to work from home to minimize the spread of the virus. That includes those who work in the mortgage industry and other financial services businesses, who are now being permitted to work at home rather than at a licensed branch location following issuance of a memo Monday afternoon by the Connecticut Department of Banking. 

“I understand there are many people that cannot telecommute and have to be at work. This is hard on many people,” Cantor said.

West Hartford residents can find the most accurate and up-to-date information on the coronavirus through the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District, the State of Connecticut Health Department’s COVID-19 site, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The town is urging everyone is urged to take the following preventative actions to remain healthy and prevent the spread of germs:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

The town’s webpage also contains important suggestions and resources for faith-based communities, businesses, private schools, daycare centers, and the elderly.

West Hartford Public Schools

Schools remain open statewide, and West Hartford Superintendent Tom Moore has continued to communicate with students, families, and staff regarding precautions that are being taken, including extra cleaning of buildings and buses.

All field trips have been canceled, Moore said Monday night.

Other events involving students interacting with others outside the district, for example the Rotary Club’s sixth grade reading project, have also been postponed.

Unless a state of the emergency is declared, statewide school closures cannot be mandated.

“Should it become necessary to consider closing one or more schools, that decision will not be made in a silo,” an updated document released Monday by the Connecticut State Department of Education states. “Absent an emergency declaration from the Office of the Governor or Federal government, school closures are local decisions made by the school district in coordination with and at the direction of the local health officials. Consultation with the State Department of Public Health and State Department of Education is also recommended.”

Districts are being urged to consider and plan for the use of “distance learning opportunities” to maintain instructional/learning time in the event that schools need to be canceled.

The entire document from the Department of Education can be found as a PDF below.

Nursing homes

Based on data from other states and countries, where nursing homes and convalescent homes have had clusters of COVID-19 infections, DPH on Monday afternoon issued a directive regarding visitation of facilities in Connecticut.

“Effective immediately, the restrictions permit visitors to enter these facilities only if the person who is residing at one of these facilities is in hospice or end-of-life care and the visitors are wearing proper personal protective equipment,” the directive states.

“The directive was issued by DPH after consultation with the Connecticut State Long Term Care Ombudsman, recognizing the elevated risk for COVID-19 to spread in enclosed healthcare facilities with highly vulnerable nursing home residents, some with serious underlying health conditions.”

When will it end

Cantor said that the latest estimate from the state is that the coronavirus may be around for the next three to four months, but no one knows for sure.

“I want to credit our staff for their work on this to-date, Hart said. In particular, he cited the work of Aimee Krauss, interim director of the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District, the Police Chief Vernon Riddick, Fire Chief Greg Priest, Public Relations Specialist Renee McCue, and Bob McCue of the town’s Office of Emergency Management.

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