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Governor Issues Order to Further Limit Large Gatherings as Number of Positive Cases Grows

Screenshot of video of press conference at UConn Health on Sunday.

As of Saturday night, two positive COVID-19 cases are in Hartford County, including a patient treated at UConn Health Center.

Gov. Ned Lamont, flanked by chief operating officer Josh Geballe and Miguel Cardona, the education commissioner at a press conference March 12. Photo credit: Mark Pazniokas, CTMirror.org

By Ronni Newton

Gov. Ned Lamont provided an update regarding the spread of coronavirus in the state Saturday at 5 p.m., at the time indicating that there were 20 positive cases in Connecticut, including one woman in her 80s from Rocky Hill being treated at Hartford Hospital, and later Saturday night another local case was confirmed.

As of Sunday morning, there are 21 positive cases statewide, with both Hartford and New Haven counties both now having confirmed test results for infected patients.

Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, CEO of UConn Health, confirmed late Saturday that the hospital had just identified a positive patient, and that individual has been discharged and is quarantining at home.

“I would like to reassure you that UConn Health followed all precautions recommended by the CDC to protect our staff, visitors, patients and learners,” Agwunobi said in a statement. “Upon arrival the patient was identified and managed as a possible COVID-19 patient and as such all appropriate precautions were taken.

“Fortunately the patient is doing well and all notifications have been provided to the local and state public health authorities. I would personally like to thank all providers and staff who provided safe and high quality care for this patient,” he said.

Details about the latest case were not provided, but at a press conference held by UConn Health on Sunday, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said contact tracing for this individual was being conducted, and said it is likely that the person had contact with many other individuals before being diagnosed.

Measures to close schools and limit gatherings is intended to slow the transmission of the disease, he said.

“We expect a signifiant spike in patients over the next days to a few weeks,” Agwunobi said Sunday.

When asked at Sunday’s press conference about when the peak is expected to occur, Dr. David B. Banach, an infectious disease specialist at UConn Health, replied, “We can’t really predict how this will unfold locally … it’s too early to really know.”

Lamont signed his third executive order Saturday broadening the state’s attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19 by facilitating social distancing and easing restrictions on a wide range of government functions. Gatherings of more than 250 people have been banned.

According to a news release from the governor’s office, Saturday’s executive order:

  • Relaxes in-person open meeting requirements to minimize large gatherings, with safeguards to provide remote public access. Statutes requiring that government meetings be held in-person and open to the public have been amended to allow such meetings to be held remotely, by conference call or by videoconference, “provided that the public is provided remote access to view or listen to the meetings and access materials for the meetings.” Most West Hartford meetings scheduled for the coming week have been canceled, including a Board of Education meeting originally scheduled for March 17. There is no announcement yet from officials on how scheduled public hearings on the budget will take place.
  • Allows pharmacists to compound and sell hand sanitizer.
  • Waives requirements for pharmacists to use certain personal protective equipment when working with non-hazardous, sterile compounds
  • Authorizes refunds of liquor permit fees for special events that have since been canceled
  • Waives face-to-face interview requirements for Temporary Family Assistance
  • Authorizes the Commissioner of Early Childhood to waive certain licensing and other requirements to maintain and increase the availability of childcare.
  • Authorizes the Office of Health Strategy to waive Certificates of Need and other requirements to ensure adequate availability of healthcare resources and facilities.

A county-by-county breakdown of the positive cases in Connecticut includes:

  • Fairfield County: 15
  • Hartford County: 2
  • Litchfield County: 3
  • New Haven County: 1

“The number of cases announced today reinforces for us what we knew was already going to happen: this virus is spreading and it is here in Connecticut,” Lamont said in a statement Saturday. “I urge all of my fellow residents to take preventative measures like limiting large gatherings and keeping a safe social distance. Our state has taken critical measures to maximize public health and those steps will continue.”

Some information about the nine new cases is known, however. Three were announced by Yale New Haven Health Saturday, including two patients and the network’s chief nursing executive, Beth Beckman. Yale University also announced a “member of its community” has preliminarily tested positive for the virus.

The governor’s office also announced a reduced train schedule for the Shore Line East and Hartford lines, with both operating on a weekend schedule Monday-Friday, except for a few routes on the Shore Line East line. For a complete list of changes, click here. The new schedule takes effect March 16.

In addition to the actions noted above, the governor’s announcement also:

  • Makes it easier for some state employees to work remotely and provides an additional 14 days of paid time off for state workers who are diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • Waives rules for opening short-term daycare centers and youth camps.
  • Deploys the National Guard to deliver ventilators to hospitals and help meet other health care needs during the crisis.
  • Establishes there will be no shutoffs or late fees associated with overdue cable and phone bills.

The governor’s office also noted that multiple internet providers have committed to providing service to those who need it during upcoming weeks, in order to conduct business and complete schoolwork.

“As part of the Federal Communication Commission’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge launched on March 12, eight internet service providers in Connecticut have committed to not terminating business or residential service, or charging late fees for anyone who can’t pay their bill due to hardship caused by COVID-19. They also have committed to provide Wi-Fi hot spots to any American that needs them. These pledge commitments will be in place for at least a 60-day period,” a news release from the governor’s office states.

Comcast and Frontier, which both provide service in West Hartford, are among the companies that have signed the pledge, in addition to Altice (Optimum), Charter (Spectrum), Cox, Atlantic, Verizon, and AT&T.

In a communication from its corporate office, Comcast announced a plan, which takes effect March 16, to ensure low-income families have internet access. The benefits include 60 days of free service for new Comcast customers, and higher internet speeds for all qualifying customers. Families can check their eligibility and learn more about available programs at www.internetessentials.com.

Businesses and families are urged to contact their service providers to find out more information about available service programs during this time.

As officials continued their efforts Saturday to slow the spread of the virus, the state’s two casinos also took preventative measures, announcing that they were canceling some large events and closing gaming rooms.

But neither Foxwoods Resort Casino nor the state’s other tribal casino, Mohegan Sun, has followed the lead of neighboring Massachusetts, where the gaming commission closed that state’s three casinos – Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park Casino – in response to the public health crisis.

Instead, Foxwoods shut down its bingo hall on Saturday and said it plans to close its poker room, Ultimate Racebook, Keno and live table games in its Great Cedar, Fox Tower and Rainmaker casinos on Monday. All tables remain open in the Grand Pequot Casino.

Both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have also cancelled or postponed a variety of live shows and events scheduled in the next month.

The state’s coronavirus website ct.gov/coronavirus continues to be updated daily, and residents can also call 2-1-1 for assistance 24 hours a day. Multilingual assistance and TDD/TTY access for those with a hearing impairment is available through 2-1-1.

The hotline is intended only for general questions related to COVID-19. Those who are experiencing symptoms are urged to contact their medical provider to seek treatment.

Editor’s note: Portions of a story written by Elizabeth Hamilton of CTMirror.org have been included in this article.

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