An N95 mask runs through a decontamination system in a New Haven DOT warehouse as part of a partnership between Connecticut and Battelle, a nonprofit science and technology development organization. Tyler Russell / CT Public
Gov. Ned Lamont speaks after touring a PPE decontamination system in a New Haven DOT warehouse as part of a partnership between The State of Connecticut and Battelle, a nonprofit science and technology development organization. Tyler Russell / Connecticut Public Radio

This story has been updated.

Around 15,000 small businesses in Connecticut were “frozen out” of a federal relief program that ran out of money, Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday.

Before the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program dried up earlier this month, about 18,000 applications from Connecticut were approved – bringing in roughly $4.2 billion to help small businesses in the state weather the coronavirus pandemic, Lamont said.

“About $225,000 on average, per loan,” Lamont said. “We did pretty well compared to our region here.”

But that still left another 15,000 small businesses in Connecticut that missed out as applications skyrocketed nationally.

This week, the U.S. Senate approved another $320 billion in aid for small business owners. The House is expected to approve the measure later this week. President Trump has indicated that he will sign it.

Glendowlyn Thames, a deputy commissioner at the state Department of Economic and Community Development, said the original round of federal funding covered about 20 to 25% of the state’s small businesses. Those that missed the first wave of funding should be ready to apply for the next round by Thursday night or Friday morning, she said.

“There’s still a significant amount of small businesses here in the state that have not been able to access these dollars,” Thames said. “We hope to change that.”

Meanwhile, Connecticut’s positive COVID-19 case count jumped to 22,469 on Wednesday with 1,972 patients hospitalized. The state reported 1,544 deaths associated with COVID-19, including 121 in the last day.

Lamont called the continued three-digit rise in the death toll “disturbingly high” during his daily briefing Wednesday afternoon.

Use Of Donated Plasma Ramps Up Around Connecticut

Hospitals around the state are using the blood of recovered coronavirus patients to jumpstart recoveries in some of Connecticut’s most critically ill.

Hartford HealthCare said Wednesday that it’s treated about a dozen COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma so far. Some of those patients are on ventilators.

Hartford HealthCare Chief Clinical Officer Ajay Kumar said the experimental treatment is yielding some initial “hopeful” signs, including among “two or three” patients who were taken off ventilation. Kumar said the treated patients are stable, but that it’s still too early to tell if the plasma is aiding in a full recovery.

Plasma is the fluid part of the blood that remains once red cells, white cells and platelets are separated. The theory is that the plasma from a recovered patient has helpful antibodies that could be passed on and give a boost to recipients currently sick with COVID-19.

Plasma therapy dates back to the 20th century and has been used more recently to treat SARS and Ebola.

Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and Westerly Hospital also announced Wednesday they are now treating patients with plasma donated by people who have recovered from COVID-19.

Three patients at Westerly Hospital and one at Lawrence + Memorial have received plasma infusions from donations obtained through the New York Blood Center.

UConn Health is also participating in a trial to monitor the effectiveness of convalescent plasma to treat seriously ill patients.

State will recycle masks for health care workers

Thousands of critically-needed masks for health care workers will be recycled back into the hands of frontline caregivers, the state announced Wednesday – more than three dozen hospitals have agreed to send used N95 masks to a warehouse in New Haven where they will be sanitized and available for reuse.

On Wednesday, Gov. Ned Lamont visited New Haven to see how Battelle, an Ohio-based research and development firm, is using machines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to clean thousands of N95 masks per day.

The service is being offered at no charge to the state’s hospitals and health care providers, the governor’s office said.

According to Battelle, its cleaning process uses a concentrated vapor form of the household antiseptic hydrogen peroxide. Used N95 respirators are exposed to the antiseptic at a concentration level that kills biological contaminants, including the novel coronavirus.

The company said its system can be used on the same N95 mask up to 20 times without degrading performance.

“That’s tens of thousands of N95 masks,” Lamont said Wednesday morning. “Making sure that our first responders are the first in line – making sure that they have the N95 masks that they need to stay safe.”

Hartford announces $1 million small business grant program

Hartford small businesses that have encountered difficulty obtaining coronavirus relief money from state and federal agencies will now have a third option: an emergency assistance program set up with help from the capital city.

The city’s Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program will make $1 million available to at least 100 small Hartford businesses, preferably those owned by women and people of color. The program is also aimed at businesses located in low-income neighborhoods.

Each grant will total up to $10,000 and can be used for a variety of expenses, including lease or mortgage payments, salaries, vendor payments and taxes.

“All too often, small businesses in communities like Hartford don’t have the banking relationships, the connections, or the ability to access federal grants or loans, and this partnership is aimed at helping those small businesses that are most likely to be left out,” Mayor Luke Bronin said in a statement this week.

Businesses can begin applying for the grants on May 4. The applications will be available online at Capital for Change. Awards are expected to be made by May 22.

Yale New Haven Health discharges more than 1,000 COVID patients

Officials for Yale New Haven Health said Tuesday their hospital system has discharged more than 1,000 patients who previously tested positive for COVID-19.

“The vast majority of these patients go back home to be with their families. Others are discharged to a rehabilitation facility where they can focus on their full recovery,” the hospital network said in a statement.

Yale New Haven Health includes five hospitals: Bridgeport, Greenwich, Lawrence + Memorial, Westerly, and Yale New Haven.

The network also said its coronavirus admissions are slowing down — and in some cases, dropping — at hospitals around Connecticut.

On Tuesday, the state reported a total of 1,949 COVID-19 hospitalizations, but the one-day change in that number was modest: an increase of only 30 people.

State says life insurers shouldn’t ask about COVID-19

Connecticut Insurance Commissioner Andrew Mais is instructing life insurers doing business in the state to avoid asking applicants questions about exposure to the novel coronavirus.

A notice issued Tuesday by the Connecticut Insurance Department said any life insurance application form filed for review with the department “should not include medical or other questions related to COVID-19, including, but not limited to, questions about being quarantined.”

Life insurance application filings that have such questions will be rejected, the department said.

“The state of emergency has already placed undue hardship on families and businesses during this pandemic,” Mais said in a statement. “Some carriers may want to know if people applying for coverage have self-isolated due to symptoms, or been tested for the disease or diagnosed with it. That won’t be allowed in Connecticut.”

This story contains information from the Associated Press.

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