This story was updated at 7 p.m.
Gov. Ned Lamont painted a picture Monday of a state with an eventually re-opened economy undergirded by rapid testing and data collection.
But how officials will use that data to inform public health actions in the coming months is an open question.
After two consecutive days of decline, hospitalization numbers in Connecticut rose slightly again Monday, but Lamont said overall trend lines are encouraging. He also said recent daily data indicate cases have peaked in Fairfield county.
“There, we definitely have bent the curve … hit the apex, I think we feel fairly confident about that,” Lamont said.
Fairfield County reported a total of 733 people hospitalized as of Monday, down 13 from the previous day.
While Lamont said hospitalizations continue to be the state’s “lead metric” for tracking the impact of COVID-19, he also called it a “blunt instrument,” one which may not be adequate to inform decisions about reopening Connecticut at the state’s next major decision point: May 20, which is the date until which schools are currently closed.
Still, Lamont said any decision to reopen will require lots of data. So, to fill potential data gaps, the governor mentioned several possible technological solutions Monday afternoon, including “fever meters” at manufacturing facilities and, eventually, stores around the state.
“Anybody with a temperature of more than 100.4, not allowed in,” Lamont said. “Over time, we may find that we can open up our stores and retail … a lot faster and sooner and more safely if we have that fever meter to test people on their way in.”
He also said the state was partnering with a non-profit app project called How We Feel, which collects anonymous, self-reported, health data that’s aggregated by zip code.
“That information may allow us to distribute more personal protective equipment,” said Feng Zhang, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is involved with the app. “Or providing more information … for social distancing. Those are the things that may be possible if we have more nuanced information.”
Lamont said closing businesses in certain zip codes that have already reopened would be a “body blow,” but said any such future measures based on data collection are “to be determined.”
“I want to make sure we open, we stay open and we go forward from there,” Lamont said.
Meanwhile the state’s positive COVID-19 case count jumped by nearly 2,000 and the death toll rose by 204 people. Lamont said both large numbers were consequences of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changing rubrics for its data points.
“We’re just truing this up so we keep with the CDC and federal definitions,” Lamont said.
Foodshare Gives Away More Than 12 Tons Of Food In One Day
Foodshare, one of the state’s largest food banks, announced Monday it distributed around 25,000 pounds of food at its new mobile distribution site: the parking lot of Rentschler Field in East Hartford.
“We had outgrown the Hartford Regional Market where we had been doing this for the last two weeks,” Foodshare President and CEO Jason Jakubowski said Monday. “The need is great.”
The majority of people who came to get food Monday morning were because of COVID-19, Jakubowski said. “People who, just up until a few weeks ago … were gainfully employed. Had one, maybe two jobs. Now, all of a sudden, through no fault of their own, they’ve found themselves in need.”
Jakubowski said Foodshare will give away food at Rentschler Field, 615 Silver Lane in East Hartford, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. all week.
He said the organization currently has enough food to meet demand and would like to extend beyond this week.
“It will be completely dependent on how much food product we’re able to obtain, how many volunteers were able to get signed up,” Jakubowski said.
Foodshare currently has enough food to meet demand, but Jakubowski said the organization is always looking for volunteers or donations, both of which can be done through its website.
State’s Unemployment Fund “Is Not Solvent,” Officials Say
State officials said Monday they anticipate Connecticut’s unemployment fund will run out of money in early May, but they stressed mechanisms are in place to allow for federal borrowing, which will ensure unemployment claims continue to get paid.
“Our trust fund that is supported by the employers in the state of Connecticut is not solvent,” said Daryle Dudzinski, deputy commissioner Connecticut Department of Labor, speaking on Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live.
In the last week, Dudzinski said his department paid out around 253,000 payments for a total of $83 million dollars.
“We anticipate running out of monies, so to speak, but we have already prepared to borrow from the federal government … to make sure there is no delay in anyone’s [benefits],” Dudzinski said.
On Friday, Gov Ned Lamont said he was working with Congress to negotiate a federal relief package that could help shore up the state’s hemorrhaging unemployment funds.
Lamont said federal relief could come two ways: a low-interest loan, which would need to be paid back by the state, or a grant, which Lamont said he preferred.
“Obviously, small businesses and states would love them to do it that way,” Lamont said. “That would not impact anybody’s rating and keep us whole.”
Governor calls for more rapid-testing locations
Lamont said Monday he wants more rapid COVID-19 tests in Connecticut, including a drive-up clinic in Hartford and a mobile testing center for nursing homes.
Connecticut launched a partnership with CVS Health last week to offer free coronavirus testing to anyone who pre-registers online and then arrives in a car to 60 Sargent Drive in New Haven, the former Gateway Community College parking lot. It is the state’s only drive-up rapid testing site at the moment.
The site uses a rapid-response COVID-19 test from Abbott, which can return results in as little as five minutes.
Speaking Monday morning to Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live, Lamont said he is now in discussion with CVS to try to bring that testing model to Hartford.
“The virus is accelerating still in the greater Hartford area,” Lamont said. “Let’s get a rapid test in Hartford — maybe in the North End — make sure that people have some security … I feel very confident that we will get one soon, but I can’t put a date on that.”
Lamont said he also wants to work with CVS to get a mobile testing facility that can move around the state and rapidly test patients.
The governor said that option would be particularly helpful for nursing homes, where a lag in COVID-19 test results over the past month left many in limbo about how to handle sick residents.
Meanwhile, coronavirus tore through nursing home populations and, as of late last week, accounted for roughly 40% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.
“We need rapid real-time mobile testing in our nursing homes now,” Lamont said.
State health and local health officials scrambled this weekend to shore up medical staff at an assisted living complex serving about 50 seniors in southwestern Connecticut.
Staffing crisis at Stratford assisted living facility
A regional medical reserve corps and nurses from Yale-New Haven Hospital sent staff to bolster Spring Village at Stratford, said Barbara Cass, head of facility licensing and investigations for the state Department of Public Health.
The department responded to an appeal from Stratford Mayor Laura Hoydick and from the community’s health department after receiving reports that the coronavirus had taken some of the nursing staff at Spring Village out of action.
“This was a team approach to help Spring Village get back on its feet,” Hoydick said. “This situation we’re finding ourselves in is new for everybody.”
The response began Saturday night with the state health department, which sent representatives to assess residents’ health and any staffing challenges.
A regional medical reserve corps involving volunteer providers from Stratford, Monroe and Trumbull sent a physician and a nurse to test more than 30 residents on Sunday.
Yale-New Haven sent three nurses — including an advanced practice registered nurse — to both assist Spring Village staff and to provide patient assessments.
The administrator for Spring Village could not be reached for comment Monday.
But Cass said the facility has developed an interim plan to cover medical services while some staff recover from illness, and will continue to receive additional nursing assistance from the hospital and the reserve corps.
State expects $530 million budget shortfall
Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget office projected a $530 million budget deficit Monday for the fiscal year that ends June 30, effectively matching a preliminary forecast issued two weeks ago.
The administration expects the General Fund, which covers the bulk of operating costs in the annual budget, to finish 2.7% in the red, due largely to eroding revenue collections, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McCaw, Lamont’s budget director, wrote in her mandated monthly forecast.
McCaw had warned earlier this month that a shortfall around $500 million was likely, given the multitude of business closures to combat the coronavirus pandemic, as well as numerous tax filing deadlines.
Lamont extended personal income as well as most business tax filing deadlines from April 15 until July 15 to ease financial pressure on residents and companies.
Despite Congress’ approval of emergency federal stimulus for states, Connecticut also has used its own resources to expand Medicaid eligibility, enhance funding for health care providers, and increase overtime allotments for government agencies facing extra demands during the crisis.
The $530 million shortfall likely will be closed this fall, when Connecticut audits the 2019-20 fiscal year, by drawing down a portion of its record-setting $2.5 billion rainy day fund.
Governor Expresses More Support For Vote By Mail
Lamont again voiced his support for an alternative to in-person voting: vote by mail.
More than two dozen other states currently have some form of vote by mail, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“I’m a strong supporter of vote by mail,” Lamont said Monday. “Even in August, my instinct is that, for a much older resident, I do not want them going out and voting.”
Connecticut has already delayed its 2020 presidential primary twice. First from April 28 to June 2, and as of last week, from June 2 until the latest new date: Tuesday, Aug. 11.
Lamont said he is working with the legislature “right now” to figure out how voting by mail might work. But it’s unclear how, or if, the mechanisms for making that happen would be in place for the August primary or November’s presidential election.
Lamont acknowledged the idea has been met with some resistance by people who question vote-by-mail’s security.
“They do it in … Republican states, Democratic states, it’s an idea whose time has come, especially now,” Lamont said.
Labor presses for workers’ comp on COVID-19
The Connecticut AFL-CIO pressed the governor to sign an executive order that would create a presumption that any case of COVID-19 contracted by front-line workers is work-related and covered by workers’ compensation.
“These workers are literally risking their lives for their community,” said Sal Luciano, state president of the AFL-CIO. He referred to a wide range of workers, including grocery-store employees, building cleaners and correction officers.
Workers’ compensation would cover wage losses and health expenses that might not be covered by health insurance.
Lamont was non-committal, saying the question was under review.
Joy Avallone, the general counsel for the Insurance Association of Connecticut, said workers can now make makes for coverage under existing the law. “Our workers’ compensation system is well-equipped to process their claims in an expedient and appropriate manner,” she said.
Keith Phaneuf and Mark Pazniokas of the CT Mirror contributed to this story.