Connecticut’s chronic shortage of personal protective equipment for front-line pandemic workers was considerably eased Tuesday by the arrival of the largest single shipment of PPE the state has received so far, providing what Gov. Ned Lamont described as a “60-day supply” of equipment such as surgical masks, gowns and thermometers.
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Officials estimated the value of that medical equipment at more than $10 million.
The announcement about the state’s PPE supply came on the same day Lamont and a top hospital official from Yale New Haven Health said the continuing decline in hospitalizations for COVID-19 bodes well for Connecticut’s plan to safely and gradually begin reopening some Connecticut businesses on May 20.
“We’re starting to see … a light at the end of the tunnel,” Marna Borgstrom, CEO of Yale New Haven Health, said at the governor’s Tuesday afternoon briefing.
“The curve is bending down and that’s incredibly positive,” Lamont said.
The latest state report shows the number of people currently hospitalized with the disease has dropped by 23, to a total of 1,189. Coronavirus deaths continued to rise, however, with 33 more fatalities, bringing Connecticut’s death toll since the start of the pandemic to 3,041.
Lamont said the latest reports show the state is continuing to increase the number of COVID-19 tests being done and that new agreements with Jackson Laboratories and Yale New Haven Health will not only allow the state to dramatically increase its testing capacity but should also result in faster results.
Auro Nair, executive vice president at Jackson Laboratories, said the number of tests his operation is processing is expected to rise from about 550 a day now to 20,000 tests a day by July. Borgstrom said Yale New Haven Health expects to ramp up to 5,000 tests per day by the end of the month, double that number by the end of June and reach 20,000 tests per day by the end of the summer.
Borgstrom also said the health system is exploring ways it can expand testing to high-risk populations and is planning to open testing centers in schools that are closed due to the pandemic.
Connecticut was testing about 18,000 people a week at the beginning of May, state officials said, and plans to increase the number of tests per week to 42,000 over the next seven days. “We’re doubling our testing capacity almost on a weekly basis,” Lamont said. The governor also said he was tested himself for the first time Tuesday, adding that if he is going to urge widespread testing across the population he figured he “should lead by example.”
State officials said they expect to have tested all nursing home residents in Connecticut by the end of this month. But Josh Geballe, Lamont’s top administrative officer, said residents of assisted living facilities should not expect to be tested for the virus until June at the earliest.
As the state prepares for a partial economic reopening next week, Connecticut officials are still working to put together a comprehensive system of testing and tracing the contacts of people infected with COVID-19. Geballe said the state has hired Boston Consulting Group, a nationally recognized management consultant firm, to assist in planning for the reopening and how to respond if there is a resurgence in the disease over the next few months.
The state’s contract with Boston Consulting calls for the firm to provide “program management, data analytics, stakeholder engagement, and communications support” for up to eight weeks at a cost of $2 million.
The Chinese PPE connection
“This is our national stockpile, right here,” Lamont said Tuesday morning of the massive PPE shipment that just arrived. He was standing in a 175,000-square-foot warehouse rented by the state to house its pandemic supplies. “I think I got tired of what, what’s going to come up from Washington, going down on bended knee. I said, ‘Let’s see what we can take control of ourselves.’ ”
The shipment from China included six million surgical masks, 500,000 protective masks, 100,000 surgical gowns and 100,000 temporal thermometers, which use infrared scanners to quickly measure a person’s temperature. As of May 11, the state has delivered more than 15 million pieces of PPE to front-line workers.
The protective gear is not only needed by workers in hospitals, nursing homes and other settings where personnel is exposed to COVID-19, but its wider availability to small businesses is a key element of the state’s plan to ease restrictions on commerce, beginning May 20.
“We’ve delivered more surgical masks in the last two days than we’d given away in the last two months,” the governor said at his afternoon briefing. “This gives us a lot more flexibility.”
“This is one of the preconditions we had before we could get this state slowly opening again on May 20,” Lamont said. “We said we were going to get the personal protective equipment we needed to make sure each and every one of our first line responders were safe and make sure our small businesses have access. Right now, we are the backup for them.”
Lamont said the delivery was the work of many in and out of state government. “We worked every relationship we could find,” he said.
Attorney General William Tong, the first Chinese-American attorney general in the U.S., met Ambassador Huang Ping, the Chinese consul general for the northeast, last year when he made a courtesy call in Hartford.
When he read about the ambassador’s role in helping the delivery of PPE to Massachusetts on the New England Patriots team plane, Tong reached out to seek help for Connecticut.
“At one point [the ambassador] asked, ‘How much do you want to buy?’ We said, ‘As much as we can get,’” Tong said.
State officials said the equipment will be distributed in the next few days by the Connecticut National Guard to pandemic workers who include first responders, hospital staff, nursing home staff and direct care providers.
New Haven mayor worried about safety of May 20 economic reopening
Despite Lamont’s optimism, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker has a lot of doubts about whether his city and the rest of Connecticut will be ready to begin restarting the economy on May 20.
“I’m not quite sure that May 20, given the guidelines set down by the governor, is completely realistic,” Elicker said during a video news briefing Tuesday.
“I know so many people are anxious to move beyond the virus,” Elicker said, but he added that his primary concern is public safety when the reopening happens.
Elicker said he has questions about whether Connecticut can do enough widespread testing by May 20 to ensure safety, and whether there will be enough personal protective equipment available for businesses and their customers by that date.
Gov. Lamont has repeatedly said the downward trends in COVID-19 hospitalizations and the state’s efforts to ramp up testing will enable Connecticut to slowly reopen on May 20. “We’re on track,” Lamont said this week.
“I’m not quite sure we’re there,” Elicker said of being ready to reopen safely.
The mayor said the ultimate decision on reopening the economy will be left up to individual businesses and their customers.
Asked if he would personally go out to a restaurant or get his hair cut on May 20, Elicker responded, “I’m not so sure I would.”
New mobile COVID-19 test station in Hartford’s North End
A free mobile coronavirus testing station opened at Hartford’s Phillips Health Center Tuesday, the first such testing of its kind available in the city’s heavily minority North End.
People seeking to be tested for COVID-19 were asked to schedule an appointment by telephone between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., with walk-in testing available from 2-4 p.m. The number to call for the scheduled testing is 860-904-9045, which is at the Harriot Home Health Services.
The mobile test station is the result of cooperation between Hartford HealthCare, Phillips Metropolitan C.M.E Church and local Hartford partners.
Testing is free and no insurance is required, but those seeking the tests must wear a mask. Results from the tests will be available in one to three days.
African American and Latino community leaders across Connecticut have repeatedly complained that far too little coronavirus testing has been done in inner-city communities. African Americans and Latinos in poor neighborhoods are a far higher risk for the virus than people in the suburbs, according to state statistics.
Mobile hospital outside Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford no longer needed
The mobile field hospital that was set up outside Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford in late March was removed Tuesday as a result of the continued downward trend in COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to Kaitlin Rocheleau, hospital spokeswoman.
The 25-bed mobile unit was installed on May 24 by the Governor’s Foot and Horse Guard as part of the hospital’s emergency planning as Connecticut headed into the expected peak of the coronavirus pandemic. The field hospital was there to take any overflow of patients as the surge in infections occurred.