A statue by Hartford’s city hall dons a mask, part of a 2020 initiative by the city’s public works department to raise awareness of the state’s mandate to wear masks in public spaces. Ryan Caron King | Connecticut Public Radio
A statue by Hartford’s city hall dons a mask, part of an initiative by the city’s public works department to raise awareness of the state’s mandate to wear masks in public spaces. Ryan Caron King | Connecticut Public Radio

As Connecticut reported an additional 98 coronavirus-related deaths Saturday afternoon, the administration of Gov. Ned Lamont said it looks to increase testing capacity across the state as hundreds of residents continue to test positive each day.

“In the coming days and weeks, we will be significantly increasing the state’s capacity to test our residents, specifically those first responders and essential employees who are on the front lines, because testing is a key component of re-opening our economy,” said Lamont in a statement Saturday.

An additional 661 people have tested positive for COVID-19 since Friday; the state’s death toll is now 1,862, and the number of people hospitalized with the virus declined by 67.

Meanwhile, as Lamont promised more testing, community advocates in New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford met online Saturday and emphasized the need for mobile testing sites or vans that can go directly to neighborhoods where people are heavily reliant upon public transportation or don’t have access to cars for drive-through testing sites.

“We have a lot of people in our community that cannot get to one of those sites to be tested for COVID-19,” said Harold Dimbo, the Bridgeport program manager for Project Longevity, an organization that works to build relationships with law enforcement within the state’s major cities. “You have a lot elderly [people] that just can’t get out of the house, don’t have cars and they’re afraid to go.”

A Hartford HealthCare mobile test site in Hartford is slated to begin operations within a week.

Dimbo also mentioned the challenges that Black and brown communities with high poverty rates face when it comes to getting access to masks and gloves for their families.

“We didn’t start getting gloves passed out to people in the neighborhood until two weeks ago. It’s sad,” Dimbo said during the online day of action hosted by the Connecticut chapter of Moms Demand Action.

Stacy Spell is Project Longevity’s New Haven program manager. He says more attention needs to be paid to shortages of masks and gloves, as well as price gouging for cleaning supplies within urban communities.

“We need to be able to address those disparities because those are the things that keep our households safe,” Spell said.

Deaths in Hartford and New Haven counties have increased dramatically over the past few weeks, with 553 and 416 coronavirus-related deaths respectively, just behind Fairfield County’s 689 deaths.

Second inmate dies from coronavirus

A 57-year-old inmate died from the coronavirus on Saturday, just ten days after he presented symptoms, the state Department of Correction said in a statement. The unidentified male is now the second to succumb to the disease. According to the DOC, he was taken to Johnson Memorial Hospital from the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution after his condition quickly deteriorated.

As of Friday, there were 357 inmates who tested positive for COVID-19, 154 who are housed at Northern Correctional Institute, which has a designated isolation unit.

State parks become overcrowded, cities cite financial strains

A sunny Saturday brought crowds out to many of the state’s parks, prompting the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to close more than 15 parks based on parking lots filled to capacity. They should reopen tomorrow, the state said.

In New Haven, Mayor Justin Elicker announced that, within a few days, the city plans to close two streets that run through East Rock Park to vehicles — English Drive and Farnam Drive. The hope is to create more space for people to socially distance while spending time outdoors by allowing them to walk on the streets rather than trails that have become overcrowded.

“If we find that it is problematic for any reason then we’ll just open up the streets again but we figured it’s a nice way to allow more people to walk outside but be safe as well,” he said in a press briefing Saturday.

Elicker also announced that the city will suspend free parking that was temporarily offered and resume issuing parking tickets as a way to try and regain revenue as the city now faces a projected $15 million deficit for this fiscal year.  Besides parking enforcement related revenue, losses have also been attributed to a decrease in building permit fees and an easing up on collecting unpaid taxes from previous years.

“We believe we’ll be able to regain a significant chunk of this lost revenue in the next fiscal year,” Elicker said. “This is, I think, an important reason why the federal government needs to help out state and municipalities. I know that we are all struggling, particularly with a significant drop in revenue.”

As small businesses continue to grapple with the loss of employees, sales, and contracts, the Lamont administration announced a partnership with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and its affiliate CONNSTEP that will distribute free face coverings to eligible, essential small businesses with fewer than 50 employees until supplies run out. Businesses are limited to two masks per employee.

“The more proactive measures we can take to prevent the spread of this virus and keep everyone healthy, the sooner we’ll be able to reopen operations,” Lamont said in a statement. “We were able to secure over 4 million masks this week that have replenished our supplies and put us in a position to support small businesses.”

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