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New COVID-19 Antibody Testing and Job Training Program Announced

'If You Have To Ask, Wear A Mask,' was a tagline Gov. Ned Lamont promoted Thursday. Photo credit: Tyler Russell, Connecticut Public Radio (Courtesy of CTMirror.org)

State Republicans want to convene a special session, and unions are advocating for more essential worker protections.

By Jim Welch, Connecticut Public Radio for CTMirror.org

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

Gov. Ned Lamont urged residents Thursday to see the reopening of the economy as a chance to restart. Meanwhile, a new COVID-19 antibody testing program is set to begin in Connecticut to combat the virus, and state officials announced a new job training program, which will launch alongside the next phase of the state’s reopening efforts on June 17.

During his afternoon briefing, Lamont announced a new program designed to help residents looking for work and businesses looking to hire as the state continues its plan to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CT Back to Work Initiative is a state partnership with the job search engine Indeed, and private workforce training providers Metrix Learning and 180 Skills.

Indeed has agreed to create a portal specifically for Connecticut residents and businesses. The job site will also host a virtual job fair from June 16-18 that will include about 40 employers in the state.

Metrix Learning will join the existing SkillUp CT free online learning program the state launched in early May to beef up training with free access to more than 5,000 online courses and certifications focused on information technology, business analysis, project management, and other digital literacy. 180 Skills trains users for jobs in the manufacturing industries, according to Garrett Moran, chairman of the Governor’s Workforce Council.

State officials said workforce development is a key pillar to restart an economy that’s been drastically altered since COVID-19 social distancing regulations took effect in early March.

“We know in order to get our economy growing again we need to provide our residents every opportunity to develop new skills for in-demand jobs,” said Glendowlyn Thames, deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development.

State COVID advice: If you have to ask, wear a mask

Lamont said new COVID-19 cases in the state continue to slow but warned residents to continue to cover their nose and mouth when in public.

“Don’t take these numbers for granted,” Lamont said, while introducing a new video that urges residents who aren’t sure if they should wear a mask to err on the side of caution. The video uses the tagline “If you have to ask, wear a mask.”

State officials reported a drop of 24 patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to Wednesday, which brings the current total to 246. Twenty-six more people died from complications related to coronavirus. There have been 4,146 deaths associated with the virus in Connecticut. There have been 44,461 cases of COVID-19 in the state, with 114 new cases reported Thursday.

There was one more COVID-19 case reported for West Hartford on Thursday, bringing the town’s total to 677 conformed and positive. There have 119 COVID-19-related deaths, three of which were newly-reported on Thursday.

Lab-designed COVID-19 antibodies to be tested at Hartford HealthCare

A federally-funded clinical trial is about to begin at Hartford HealthCare, hospital officials announced Thursday. The study will examine whether two laboratory-designed antibodies are effective at preventing and treating infections from the novel coronavirus.

Unlike vaccines, which are preventive, antibody injections can provide virus protection, but also can be used to treat sick patients.

Rocco Orlando, chief of academic affairs at Hartford HealthCare, said lab-designed antibodies have been used for years to treat conditions like Lupus and cancer.

“This is an antibody designed in a laboratory that is targeted at what’s called the spike protein on the COVID virus,” Orlando said during the health care network’s Thursday morning briefing.

The drug, developed by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, uses two antibodies identified from thousands reviewed by scientists in a lab, the company said in an announcement Thursday.

The two antibodies bind to the novel coronavirus’ spike protein, potentially diminishing its ability to infect healthy cells.

Orlando said Hartford HealthCare’s trial will focus on hospitalized COVID-19 patients and those well enough to be sent home.

Still, it’s a phase one national trial, which means the study is at an early stage and time will tell if the antibodies are effective or safe enough for widespread use.

The drug maker would also need to obtain an emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“If all goes well, we hope to have substantial data that allows us to better characterize safety and efficacy of this medicine in the Fall,” said Alexandra Bowie, a spokesperson for Regeneron, in an email Thursday.

Bowie said Hartford HealthCare was currently the only trial site in Connecticut, but that “there could be more in the future.”

State Republicans call for action on police reform and federal COVID-19 relief

State House Minority Leader Themis Klarides (R-Derby) called Thursday for a special legislative session to deal with time-sensitive issues like the allocation of federal COVID-19 relief funding.

Meanwhile, her Republican Senate colleagues addressed their agenda for police reform in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis after a police officer pressed a knee into his neck for more than eight minutes.

Klarides wrote to her state legislative colleagues calling for the House and Senate to come back together before fall. Klarides joined Deputy Minority Leader Vincent Candelora (R-North Branford) on May 27 to announce they were starting a petition to reconvene for a special session to discuss state budget shortfalls related to COVID-19.

“We are concerned that the (Lamont) administration will spend more money allocated through the $1.4 billion in Coronavirus Relief Fund,” Klarides wrote in the letter.

Klarides said that difficult, bipartisan discussions will be needed for the state to pass police reform laws.

The state Senate Republican Caucus also issued a statement Thursday saying police reform was a priority and discussions will continue into the next legislative session in 2021. “Only during a full legislative session will the public be able to have their voices heard,” the statement said. “If we want to get this right, we need more than just legislators making decisions. We need to hear from the public and understand all perspectives.”

State Police voice support of #8CantWait movement

Connecticut State Police detailed their efforts to follow the national #8CantWait guidelines authored by Campaign Zero initiative to prevent police brutality. State police urged local law enforcement to adopt the following eight policies:

  1. Ban chokeholds and strangleholds: Neck restraint is not supported or taught at the Connecticut State Police Training Academy.
  2. Require de-escalation: State officers and recruits are provided de-escalation training throughout their career.
  3. Require warning before shooting: State officers are required to give a verbal warning before firing their weapon whenever it is safe and feasible to do so.
  4. Exhaust all alternatives before shooting: State police are only authorized to use deadly physical force if their life or another person’s life is in danger.
  5. Duty to intervene: State police supervisors are required to find and report unsatisfactory conduct when it is reasonably possible. The supervisor can face discipline if they fail to take action.
  6. Ban shooting at moving vehicles: Deadly force cannot be directed at a moving vehicle to attempt to stop it and an officer must believe their life – or someone else’s life – is in danger before they fire into the vehicle.
  7. Require use of force continuum: Officers are trained to use alternative weapons such as batons, electronic control devices, and pepper spray.
  8. Require comprehensive reporting: Officers are required to report any use of force instances and supervisors must investigate.

Union advocates for more care of essential workers 

Labor union representatives gathered at rallies on the State Capitol steps and outside the rest area on I-95 North in Darien Thursday to speak in support of essential workers.

Members of labor union 32BJ joined state legislators and faith leaders to demand affordable health insurance, improved job security, and safe working conditions through the pandemic.

Bianca Johnson, a security officer who works for SecurAmerica who said she was stationed at The Hartford, told the crowd at the Capitol she can not afford the health insurance offered through her employer and struggles to pay the rent for the apartment she shares with her young child.

James Smith, a security officer at Aetna, echoed Johnson’s concerns. “Essential is not sacrificial,” Smith told supporters at the Capitol.

Service plaza fast food workers joined State Rep. David Michel, D-Stamford, at a second 32BJ event outside the rest stop in Darien to ask for improved sanitation during the pandemic and better pay and benefits for restaurant workers.

Connecticut Public Radio reporter Patrick Skahill contributed to this story.

Reprinted with permission of The Connecticut Mirror. 

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