Gov. Ned Lamont said he asked the federal government on Thursday to declare a major disaster in Connecticut as the number of COVID-19 cases in the state surpassed 1,000.
If approved, the aid would include assistance to residents and local governments, as well as disaster unemployment benefits, crisis counseling, disaster case management and legal services.
Earlier this week, President Donald Trump approved major disaster declarations for California, Washington and New York.
“As a neighboring state to New York, with thousands of residents who work in or travel to New York daily, Connecticut is within the epicenter of infection,” Lamont wrote in his letter to Trump. “The virus knows no state boundaries, as demonstrated by the hundreds of positive cases in Fairfield County.”
In New York, the state’s death toll from the coronavirus Thursday jumped by 100 in a day, pushing the number of fatalities to 385. There are more than 37,000 documented cases of the virus in New York state, with the biggest hot spots in New York City and Westchester County.
Connecticut’s neighboring Fairfield County reported 607 COVID-19 cases Thursday. Statewide, Connecticut officials said the number of confirmed cases jumped from 875 to 1,012 in one day, with 125 people hospitalized. Twenty-one people have died.
Lamont on Thursday urged any commuters or other travelers from New York City to stay home, if possible. But if they do come to Connecticut, he wants them to self-quarantine for two weeks.
“Make sure you are 100% healthy after 14 days before you do a lot of circulation up here,” Lamont said.
The governor also issued new social-distancing guidelines, requesting no more than five people in any social gathering. And he indicated he would waive the state’s 10-cent fee on plastic bags at grocery stores, after concerns that reusable bags that shoppers bring from home could be contaminated with coronavirus.
“We’re going to lift that 10-cent tax,” Lamont said. “It’s contrary to every environmental instinct I’ve got in my core, but I think for now, I want to make sure the folks working at [grocery stores] feel safe.”
COVID-19 Tests Could Be Harder To Come By
Lamont cautioned on Thursday that he expects COVID-19 testing in the state to plateau -- or slow down -- in the near term because of a shortage in personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers.
“We are reaching our testing capacity limit in this country,” U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Thursday, speaking alongside Lamont. “The next, most immediate job for the federal government, in conjunction with state governments, is to dramatically expand our capacity to make things that are necessary in order to meet the public health challenge.”
The Trump administration has faced calls to use its authority under the Defense Production Act to push manufacturers to produce equipment such as ventilators and face masks.
“The amount of time that states and hospitals have to spend routing around for medical equipment and ventilators is barbaric,” Murphy said. “It is unnecessary and it is wildly inefficient. We’ve got to do better at the federal level.”
The Connecticut Department of Correction said Thursday some prisoners are now producing face masks in anticipation of a shortage.
The cotton masks are for “emergency situations” and will be offered to prisoners and DOC staff when personal protective equipment, such as N95 respirators or surgical masks, have already been rationed, the department said.
So far, about 230 prisoners across four locations have made at least 3,300 masks through the DOC’s Correctional Enterprises of Connecticut Unit, which typically makes everything from highway signs to furniture to mattresses. Offenders are paid up to $1.50 an hour for their work.
Right now, the masks are only intended for use in correctional facilities. But department spokeswoman Karen Martucci said the masks could eventually go to hospitals and homeless shelters -- if needed as a last resort.
“Once adequately supplied, we are more than ready to help our communities,” Martucci said. “We are all in this together and want to collaborate to the best of our abilities.”
COVID-19 Scammers Cashing In On False Claims Tied To Census
Also on Thursday, the Connecticut attorney general warned residents about scams fraudulently claiming that Americans must respond to the 2020 Census in order to receive federal stimulus checks.
State officials said some scams have involved a fake Census website, where users are asked to divulge personal information.
“Bad actors are always looking for ways to profit off of people’s fears and anxieties,” Attorney General William Tong said in a statement. “There is zero connection between your 2020 Census response and any economic stimulus aid. If you receive any text messages, phone calls or emails falsely claiming this, please report this to my office immediately.”
Tong’s office reminded residents that the Census Bureau will never send unsolicited emails or ask for Social Security numbers, bank account information or credit card numbers.
Aquaculture Jobs Sinking Fast
In another coronavirus hit to the economy, a recent survey of Connecticut aquaculture producers shows that sales revenue in that industry plummeted in February and March -- a 93% drop compared with the same period last year.
Job losses from the shutdown have also wiped out 70% of the workforce employed in shellfish, seaweed and finfish farming operations, according to the survey conducted by Connecticut Sea Grant, UConn Extension and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture.
Producers largely attribute the losses to Lamont’s order to close down restaurants and bars statewide. Several aquaculture farmers have shifted to local farmers markets and online sales, but layoffs continue.
Connecticut Sea Grant said 251 full- and part-time employees have been laid off in February and March. Most of the state’s aquaculture operations are small, the agency said, employing fewer than five people.
More State Courthouses Close
The Connecticut Judicial Branch announced Thursday that it will temporarily close three courthouses to help limit the spread of coronavirus.
The courthouses that will close are the Litchfield Judicial District in Torrington, the GA #19 courthouse in Rockville, and GA #11 in Danielson. All three will close at the end of Friday.
Starting March 31, the remaining open courthouses and two juvenile courthouses in Hartford and Bridgeport will curtail hours, with staff leaving for the day at 2 p.m.
This story contains information from the Associated Press. The Connecticut Mirror’s Kelan Lyons contributed to this story.