Uncertain times are when open debate should most be encouraged. The response actions by the state for COVID-19, good and bad, have largely gone unquestioned publicly, and I feel strongly we as citizens need to feel we have more than one public voice, the state, in guiding where we go from here.
In that spirit, the following comments are meant to be a single list of constructive, not contrarian, ideas. Many of the state’s actions have been positive, but some need improvement, and fast.
We need a much quicker plan forward than May 20. Gov. Ned Lamont announced a deadline of May 20 for his task force to present plans to re-open Connecticut. The task force sub-committees are well-chosen, but they need and can handle a truly urgent deadline. People are despondent about their job losses, inability to be with loved ones who are dying and losses of businesses they spent decades building. We need to demonstrate more urgency than May 20 for a re-opening plan with key milestones on a regional basis.
People need hope, they need respect for a thoughtful plan developed as soon as possible, so they have a road map for their hope.
We need honest statistics and goals. We were told originally that stay at home was needed so that our health system is not overwhelmed, and it has not been. What we do not get regularly is a breakdown by county of daily capacity and usage of health facilities, which would allow people to judge the severity of the disease against the severity of the current cure.
Digging for the numbers, it turns out our capacity is well-below being tested across most, not all, areas of the state and looks to remain so. We do not need “confirmed case” figures contrasted with deaths, since that is an alarmist and misleading figure. Actual cases and deaths determine the actual death rate, again an example of unhelpful use of figures, unless you are trying to scare folks.
The governor just lauded a new single, unreviewed study estimating that 10,000 lives have been saved to date, implying the new goal is minimizing deaths. Such a high theoretical number certainly seems to justify some strong action, but what the heck is such an unquestioned estimate for but to justify what has been done?
We need to stop with the cherry-picked, unquestioned estimates and work with real, scrutinized figures like responsible leaders. The easiest way to minimize deaths is have the medieval approach of everyone at home, with the obvious opposite effect of eliminating all economic activity. If a public goal is to eliminate all deaths, why do we not have such stringent measures for all other major types of ailments?
We need to allow hospitals and surgery centers to open for important elective surgeries. Despite the headlines of long hours for folks dealing with COVID-19 patients, many healthcare workers are having shifts cut and hospitals and practices are suffering from plummeting revenue. “Elective” surgeries are often important measures of health for people, and they are a key source of revenue for hospitals that are now in economic crisis because of the elimination of these surgeries. Instead of taxpayers having to bail out hospitals, insurance companies will pay with premiums they have already collected but not had to pay out claims.
We need absolute clarification of health provider COVID-19 liability exemption. Under current governor’s orders, an exemption is unclear if a health care worker presented with, say, a cardiac patient with COVID-19 would be negligent performing chest compressions that spread virus in the treatment room, or if the healthcare worker chose not to performing chest compressions due to risk of spread of the virus. Anyone treating anyone with COVID-19 should be absolutely exempted from liability except for gross negligence or willful malfeasance. We do not need an epidemic of lawsuits against people trying to do the right thing.
Rent “deferral” needs clarification and will cause even more pain needlessly for municipalities. Putting aside that to my knowledge, no other state has an order allowing renters to defer rent, the governor needs to absolutely clear with renters that this a rent deferral, not an amnesty. Many people do not understand this distinction at all.
Most other governors have recognized that the extra $600 a week in unemployment through July 31 and the April $1,200 plus $500 per child payments were created to allow folks to make their obligations. The rent deferral is unique to Connecticut, and will further compound cash flow issues for large-renter municipalities reliant on July property tax payments, primarily cities like Waterbury, Hartford and New London. Municipalities are facing weak collections in July anyway, this order will increase that crisis and the state needs a plan to fix a problem to which it has contributed needlessly. This rent deferral will also hit smaller landlords very hard. Landlords have many more expenses than property taxes and mortgages to keep up a rental property. Our cities are filled with these types of small owners, owning a three-unit, living in one and renting the two.
As many other states have done, Connecticut needs to defer the 5.5%, $353 million in state employee increases. If state employees were able to bring themselves to concede the raises for this year, that would be even better. In the absence of that, for basic cash management practice, this is a material item that would not affect the recipients materially and would help the state get past its cash management crisis from deferral of income taxes.
J.R. Romano is Chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party.