Towns and cities facing mounting costs associated with COVID-19 will get some help as they close out their budgets for the fiscal year. The state also announced Thursday that unemployment remains at historic highs, though new weekly claims are slowing.
Gov. Ned Lamont said $75 million has been allocated for the creation of a Connecticut Municipal Coronavirus Relief Fund Program to help towns and cities cover costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The money, which is supported by a federal COVID-19 relief fund, will reimburse towns and cities for expenses after March 1 through the end of the year for costs associated with the pandemic, said Melissa McCaw, secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management.
“The towns and cities across this great state critically require this support through the Coronavirus Relief Fund and will also be able to avail themselves to other federal and state programs,” McCaw said.
Municipal leaders told the state they have or will have incurred a total of $40 million in direct costs due to the pandemic before the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities criticized Lamont’s plan, saying it is far less than what was recommended under federal government guidelines.
CCM is calling for the state to give cities and towns a greater share of federal COVID-19 relief money.
“Municipal services must continue; lives depend on them,” CCM said in a statement. “Connecticut municipal leaders and their property taxpayers continue to be burdened by unexpected and unbudgeted pandemic-related expenses.”
Unemployment Claims Still High But Trending Positive
The Department of Labor Thursday said unemployment claims remain at historic highs, but the number of weekly claims is declining. Most new claims are taking between one and two weeks to process, DOL Commissioner Kurt Westby said.
The state received an average of 18,700 initial weekly claims in the first two weeks of May, the latest numbers available, Westby said. This represented a decline from an average of 28,800 initial weekly claims in April and 69,700 initial weekly claims in the last three weeks of March, when many businesses first shut down at the start of COVID-19 regulations.
“Yes, those numbers have been coming down,” Westby said. “They’re lower, but even the 18,700 -- those are still record levels.”
Westby says the average weekly claims in the last recession peaked at 10,000. He also said that the state unemployment insurance program has paid out $76.25 million in addition to $1.46 billion disbursed under federal COVID-19 unemployment programs.
The Department of Labor has reassigned 60 employees to handle claimant issues, Westby said. Another 60 temporary employees will be hired to staff a contact center to answer emails, texts and live chat questions. The contact center is scheduled to open by mid-July, Westby said.
He said the state’s trust fund balance is $64 million, and the state intends to borrow $300 million this month to continue paying claims.
Teachers Voice Concerns
Connecticut teachers are worried about their health and safety, as well as that of their students, when schools reopen, according to a new survey by the Connecticut Education Association.
Nearly two-thirds of the 3,000 teachers surveyed in late May said their schools are not equipped to provide frequent and sufficient hand-washing for students and staff to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
The survey also found that 43% of those polled reported they are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, and the number increased to 71% for teachers with 30 or more years in the classroom.
The CEA is calling for the following precautions once schools reopen:
- Regular disinfection of schools
- A plan for when anyone -- including a visitor -- contracts COVID-19
- Protocols for students who ride the bus
- Requiring everyone, including visitors, to wear face masks
- Social distancing, including smaller classes, one-way hallways and no assemblies
State Legislators Join Essential Workers To Call For More PPE
A group of workers deemed essential through the pandemic joined state legislators on the steps of the state Capitol Thursday asking for expanded workers’ compensation, hazard pay and additional access to personal protective equipment.
“We don’t get to call them essential workers and treat them like sacrificial lambs,” said state Rep. Robyn Porter, who represents New Haven and Hamden and serves as chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee.
Randall Van Cole, a security officer for SecurAmerica who works at The Hartford, said many guards who work at the property and casualty insurer can’t afford the health insurance offered to them. He said he comes in contact with hundreds of people a day. Van Cole, who is a member of the 32BJ SEIU labor union, said he is worried about bringing the coronavirus home to his family, and he called for paid family and medical leave, affordable health insurance and workers’ compensation.
“We need to ensure essential workers receive essential support,” Van Cole said.
Fast-food employees have similar concerns. Mario Franco, a former night shift manager at the McDonald’s at the Darien Service Plaza, spoke with state Rep. Edwin Vargas of Hartford, translating. Franco said he worked at McDonald’s for more than 26 years but said he lost his job due to COVID-19. Franco, a member of 32BJ SEIU, said the most important things service workers need are clean workplaces and proper PPE.
State Rep. Brandon McGee, who represents Windsor and Hartford, said his grandmother died after contracting COVID-19. McGee, chair of the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, said front-line workers are disproportionately minorities.
“What those workers are asking for is recognition and a helping hand at a time that we have asked them to carry our state through a public health emergency that is this pandemic,” McGee said.
Hartford HealthCare To Allow Visitors Starting This Week
Hartford HealthCare announced Thursday that it will begin to allow one visitor -- or escort -- per patient for procedures and surgeries. Starting next week, visitors will be allowed for patients admitted to the hospital for short-term acute care.
Visitors at Hartford HealthCare hospitals will be screened for COVID-19 and must test negative in order to stay on-site. Visitors will be required to wear face masks.
People with patients having procedures and surgeries this week will stay with the patient in a modified waiting area with social distancing in place. Patients with a documented need for a companion will be allowed to have an escort stay with them.
Next week, one visitor will be allowed per patient in acute and ambulatory areas during visiting hours. One visitor will be allowed per room at a time, including rooms with two patients.
There were 148 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Connecticut Thursday, according to public health data. Numbers released Thursday show 373 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, 33 fewer than Wednesday. Eighteen more people died from COVID-19, bringing the total to 4,007.
Connecticut Courts Continue to Reopen Gradually
The Judicial Department announced Thursday that limited operations will resume at four more courthouses starting June 29.
The courthouses are: the Judicial District courthouses in Danbury, Milford and Stamford, and the Geographical Area No. 11 courthouse in Danielson.
The phased-in reopening will bring the number of open courthouses to 17, including the State Supreme Court and appellate courts, 13 Superior Court locations and two juvenile court locations.
Walk-up COVID-19 Testing Program To Begin In Waterbury
A new walk-up COVID-19 testing program will begin Monday in Waterbury at the Duggan School. The program, offered through Saint Mary’s Hospital and the city of Waterbury, will then offer walk-up testing on Tuesdays at the Duggan School and on Thursdays at the Waterbury Police Activity League (PAL) from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., weather permitting.
No appointment or prescription will be necessary to be tested.
CT Trails Day Will Be Do-It-Yourself
The organizers of CT Trails Day still encourage residents to get outside but in small groups. The event, traditionally held on the first weekend of June, will be self-guided this year, the Connecticut Forest & Park Association announced Thursday.
“The goal of Trails Day is to raise awareness of the rich diversity of trails in Connecticut. Today, maybe more than ever, we all need the mental and physical benefits that getting out for a walk can bring,” Eric Hammerling, CFPA executive director, said in a statement.
Ali Warshavsky contributed to this report.