Connecticut Looks To Make Voting Safer, As COVID-19 Hospitalizations Continue To Decline | Connecticut Public Radio
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Connecticut Looks To Make Voting Safer, As COVID-19 Hospitalizations Continue To Decline

May 4, 2020

For the 12th consecutive day, Connecticut’s COVID-19 hospitalizations continued to decline, Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday.

This post has been updated.

In his regular daily briefing, Lamont said Fairfield, Hartford and New Haven counties are all seeing a downward trend in hospitalizations. He also said the death rate has been slightly lower over the last five days than it was over the previous five days.

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But state Sen. Saud Anwar (D-South Windsor) cautioned that any reopening plans need to be approached “based on science and not emotion.”

Anwar is vice chair of the legislature’s Public Health Committee. He’s also a doctor who has been working in intensive care units. He joined the briefing remotely.

“I’m seeing, unfortunately, the ugly face of the disease … you have patients dying every single day,” Anwar said. “Just because the number of deaths have decreased does not necessarily mean that we are safe.”

Connecticut reported 61 additional COVID-19 deaths Monday, bringing the overall total to 2,556.

Still, the call to reopen businesses is growing across the state. Lamont said Monday that Connecticut small business owners “did very well” under the latest round of applications for the federal Paycheck Protection Program, but he acknowledged the loans only give businesses the “firepower” to get through a few more weeks, at best. And that’s accounting just for the businesses that were able to get the loan.

“That’s why we’re focused on May 20,” Lamont said. “We’re focused on getting things reopened.”

The governor said more than 30,000 Connecticut companies got approved. “That’s $2.5 billion more to the state,” Lamont said. “This loan size is smaller than it was in the first round, but that also means more of our small businesses got access.”

In April, $349 billion allocated for PPP loans quickly dried up under a nationwide application surge. In Connecticut, $4.2 billion in aid was approved, but more than 15,000 small businesses were “frozen out,” because the program ran out of money, Lamont said.

Meanwhile, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced that all public and private schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year in his state. 

Lamont touched on the topic briefly Monday and said an announcement on schools and summer camps is expected tomorrow. 

Under Threat Of COVID-19, Connecticut Takes Steps To Make Voting Easier And Safer

The state said Monday it will send absentee ballot applications to every Connecticut registered voter, part of an effort to address concerns that coronavirus could keep people away from the polls in this year’s primary and general elections. But it remains to be seen how any expansion of mail-in voting will square with strict, centuries-old statutes governing remote voting in Connecticut.

“No one should have to risk their health in order to vote,” said Secretary of the State Denise Merrill on Connecticut’s Public Radio’s Where We Live. “Our first priority is to secure the polling places.”

COVID-19 has already caused Connecticut to delay its 2020 presidential primary twice, first from April to June and then from June until the latest new date: Tuesday, Aug. 11. 

Lamont has said it’s likely that some form of social distancing will remain in place throughout the summer, which has raised concerns about voters staying home or election officials abandoning their posts. 

In response, Merrill said in a plan announced Monday that applications for absentee ballots will be sent to every registered voter in the state. The state said it will cover the cost of all postage.

It’s unclear how any expansion to absentee ballot voting will be implemented. Right now, Merrill said absentee ballot provisions are part of the state constitution, “which is very difficult to change.” But Merrill said there could be some wiggle room in a separate state statute that also governs absentee ballot voting and more narrowly defines who qualifies to vote that way.

Connecticut allows absentee voting for active members of the military, people who will be out of town or can’t vote on Election Day because of religious reasons, certain members of the disabled community and some people who are ill.

“I would need an executive order from the governor or action by the legislature to change the statute,” Merrill said. “We’re trying to work with these definitions to be able to enable voters, as I said, not to have to choose between their health and their vote.”

As part of the new plan, Merrill said the state will also work with municipalities on polling place locations, layouts, staffing, and cleaning protocols.

Meanwhile, Merrill said the 2020 election also brings with it the very real fear of foreign interference. 

In response, she said the Connecticut National Guard will perform “a high-level assessment” of the election infrastructure of each of Connecticut’s 169 cities and towns. Merrill said her office will upgrade networks in around 20 towns that have had “chronic issues with their connections to the networks necessary for the election process.”

More COVID-19 Deaths At State Prisons

Two more inmates in state prisons died today from complications related to coronavirus. They are the fourth and fifth offenders to die from the virus in the state.

The state is not identifying the two men. The first was a 60-year-old man who was transferred to the UConn Health Center on April 20 after testing positive; he had been in the correctional system since 2012 and was serving a 14-year sentence for first-degree burglary.

The second was a 51-year-old man who was put in medical isolation on April 24. He was brought to the hospital yesterday, where he later died. He entered the system in 1992 and was serving a more than 40-year sentence for murder.

Mobile COVID-19 Testing Comes To Stamford

Stamford has been the hardest-hit city in Connecticut as a wave of COVID-19 infections has swept across the state.

This weekend, the city began to roll out mobile testing services to improve the picture of cases in the city. It’s also testing first responders and nursing home staff.

Stamford Mayor David Martin told Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live that mobile testing providers are visiting apartment buildings where residents have tested positive, and they are attempting to test as many people as possible.

“If you don’t have insurance, we’ll get you insurance, and if we can’t get you insurance, we’ll still do it for free,” Martin said. “Because this is a public health advantage to find out who it is that’s been infected and to find those people who may be asymptomatic, but they may be spreading the disease until we find out they’re positive.”

Martin said there has been a positive response to the service from residents who want to get tested.

State May Buy Food In Bulk To Assist Food Pantries

As unemployment caused by coronavirus lockdowns threatens food security for people across the nation, Connecticut’s agriculture commissioner, Bryan Hurlburt, said Monday he’s considering buying food in bulk to provide to organizations that feed needy people.

Hurlburt said charitable food pantries and banks have seen huge upticks in demand coupled with challenges in getting supplies. He said organizations are trying to outbid one another, and that can’t be the solution. 

Hurlburt said his agency has reached agreements with state colleges and universities to use their refrigerators to store bulk purchases.

Analysis Finds Connecticut Traffic Has Dropped By About Half Due To COVID-19

Data from 23 automated traffic monitoring stations across the state indicate a roughly 50% reduction in traffic volume on Connecticut’s roads and highways when compared to this time last year, a spokesperson for the state Department of Transportation said Monday.

DOT spokesperson Kevin Nursick said state highway officials saw a dramatic drop-off in traffic about one month ago, after the state shuttered schools and many businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Since then, the DOT has extended lane closures on several projects to expedite some construction projects “without any negative impacts to traffic,” Nursick said. So far, scheduled road construction projects have not run into supply chain or personnel issues due to COVID-19, Nursick said, but the agency is watching the issue.

He said the DOT is also watching the potential insolvency of Connecticut’s Special Transportation Fund, which officials forecasted last week would reach insolvency about three years sooner than estimated before the global pandemic.

In addition to potential financial problems, Nursick said COVID-19 has had another negative, and more immediate impact on state roads: More drivers are speeding.

And while he said the DOT noted fewer crashes due to a decrease in traffic, “the severity of crashes is going up,” Nursick said. “It’s absorbing the resources of first responders.”

Connecticut Public Radio’s Jeff Cohen and Harriet Jones contributed to this report. This report contains information from the Associated Press.