Government Health

Gov. Lamont Closes Schools, Joining 23 Other States

Gov. Ned Lamont flaked by (from left) Fran Rabinowitz, the leader of the state’s superintendent’s association, Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona, Josh Geballe, his chief executive officer, and his wife Ann Lamont. Photo credit: Kelan Lyons, CTMirror.org

As of Sunday evening, there are 26 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut, including two new cases in Hartford County.

By Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, Kelan Lyons, and Keith M. Phaneuf, CTMirror.org

Gov. Ned Lamont on Sunday ordered all public schools closed through the end of March in his latest attempt to slow the spread of the potentially fatal coronavirus.

The governor also announced he is meeting Monday with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to discuss a coordinated, regional approach to closing restaurants and bars, saying he’s not prepared to close Connecticut establishments until he reaches an agreement with neighboring states. Massachusetts on Sunday closed all bars and restaurants to on-premise business.

“It doesn’t make any sense for Connecticut to do something and New York not because then people just go across the border,” Lamont told reporters outside the governor’s residence in Hartford Sunday night.

Connecticut now has a total of 26 confirmed cases: six more since yesterday, though that number is likely much higher since testing has been limited. According to the governor’s office, the six new cases break down as follows: Fairfield county has one new case; Hartford county has two new cases; Litchfield county has one new case; and New Haven county has two new cases.

Lamont’s announcement to close schools starting Tuesday comes after governors in 23 other states – including Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire – have already shut down schools. New York officials announced Sunday that public schools will close in New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County.

On Thursday, Lamont said he did not think it was necessary for him to order schools to close because local districts were already making the right call. With well over two-thirds of the public schools in the state already announcing plans to close, Lamont told reporters the additional step was necessary.

“I think we see the urgency of the situation,” he said. “It’s the prudent thing to do.”

Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker announced Sunday that he was closing the state’s public and private schools through April 6. Baker also banned gatherings larger than 25 people in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus in his state, which is reporting 164 confirmed cases to date.

Cuomo has declined to close schools statewide, however.

“It’s not that easy. It’s not that simple,” Cuomo told reporters Sunday. “Most families don’t have a caregiver at home.”

Closing schools has huge consequences. When schools close parents are often left scrambling to find child care and are left relying on elderly grandparents – the very people that the virus is impacting most fatally. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 40% of grandparents currently provide childcare for their grandchildren and “school closures will likely increase this percentage.”

Lamont said Sunday he is unsure how long the closure will last.

“I have no idea whether it will be two weeks. But we are saying plan on two weeks for now,” he said.

Lamont also encouraged residents to refrain from large gatherings – “The smaller the group, the better,” he said – and suggested teaching grandparents to FaceTime so they aren’t exposed to the virus from an in-person visit.

“We’re going to get through this by working together, by making sure we have all the social distancing we need,” he said. “I want you to be safe, and in another month or so I hope we’re looking back and saying we’ve turned the corner.”

A proponent of small businesses, the governor suggested people buy take-out or gift certificates from their favorite eateries, to make up for the business they’re losing because of the pandemic.

“I care desperately about these restaurants,” Lamont said. “I want to do everything I can to support them.”

Lamont’s announcement came in another executive order – his fourth since he enacted the civic preparedness and public health emergency declarations – that he signed on Sunday. Executive Order No. 7C grants the Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Sibongile Magubane the authority to close branches to the public, conduct business remotely and extend deadlines for hearings and other related notices. The department will likely keep four branches partially open as business operations hubs, notes a press release from the governor’s office.

“This is an important step to limit interaction and promote social distancing,” said Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer.

Building on his previous order to limit visits to nursing homes, Lamont’s Sunday executive order extended that restriction to psychiatric facilities.

“This will help relevant state agencies restrict entrance to those facilities, to protect the vulnerable residents and agency staff who work there,” said Geballe.

Deadline relief for municipalities and taxpayers

The governor’s executive order also extends all municipal deadlines by 30 days for local budget preparation and adoption, including any public hearings communities are required to hold on their respective budgets.

Lamont waived the state’s open meeting requirements Saturday, permitting municipalities to exclude the public from attending certain meetings in person.

But municipal leaders also are seeking additional assistance for municipal budgets. Most communities are required to approve spending and revenue plans for the new fiscal year by mid-May.

While the order Lamont issued Sunday gives communities an extra month, leaders say they also fear holding a public hearing or town meeting to discuss or adopt a budget is unsafe in the current health crisis.

The administration says it is researching all of these matters in consultation with the Connecticut Bar Association and the State Attorney General’s Office and remains in contact with municipal leaders.

Besides the corporation tax, extensions also were granted for the:

  • Pass-Through Entity tax, a levy for limited liability corporations and other small businesses not subject to the state Corporation Tax.
  • Connecticut Unrelated Business Income Tax. Charitable organizations, social clubs, trade associations and certain other groups that are exempt from the corporation tax pay this other levy if that receive business income that is unrelated to their tax-exempt mission.

Also Sunday, Lamont announced he’s directed the Department of Revenue Services to extend tax return filing and payment deadlines for the state’s corporation tax and two other business levies.

Returns for these taxes, which face deadlines between March 15 and June 1, all are extended for 30 days. Their respective payment deadlines also are extended for one month.

Reprinted with permission of The Connecticut Mirror. The authors can be reached at [email protected][email protected] and [email protected].

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