Lawmakers Concerned About Reopening Next Week, But Lamont Pushes Forward | Connecticut Public Radio
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Lawmakers Concerned About Reopening Next Week, But Lamont Pushes Forward

May 14, 2020

Coronavirus-related hospitalizations continue to decline as Connecticut works its way toward reopening portions of its economy on May 20. But on Thursday, a group of Democratic state senators said that date was too soon and urged Gov. Ned Lamont to delay his plans to ease business restrictions. 

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Two groups of Democratic lawmakers told the governor this week that they are concerned the state is moving too quickly to reopen. On Thursday, nine lawmakers wrote to Lamont and said the new positive tests for coronavirus still indicate community transmission is happening at a rate “far beyond our ability to track, trace and isolate,” and they asked him to delay his plans to phase out restrictions beginning May 20.

Included in another letter sent by Senate Democrats earlier this week was a list of questions about Lamont’s reopening plans, including several about the availability of coronavirus testing. 

“There is currently not enough testing to provide routine testing on essential workers, including nursing home workers and state employees in congregate settings,” the legislators said. Both letters are signed by several legislators, including state Sen. Saud Anwar (D-South Windsor), a physician and pulmonary care specialist who has worked in the intensive care unit of Manchester Memorial Hospital during the pandemic. 

At his daily briefing Thursday, Lamont responded to the criticism by saying he understood where the lawmakers were coming from.

“Can we always do more? Yeah, I appreciate the ongoing concern that people have,” Lamont said. “But I think we’ve got the right balance going forward right now. I think you have a sense that we put public health and public safety first and foremost, and whatever we do, we’re doing very cautiously.”

The governor has said he wants Connecticut conducting 42,000 weekly coronavirus tests by May 20. On Thursday, state officials reported an additional 6,600 tests, but they said testing capacity still outpaces demand. 

“I can’t overemphasize how important testing is, but testing only works if you’re willing to get tested,” Lamont said. “We have a lot of capacity at our hospitals, a lot of capacity still at our drive-through facility in New Haven.”

Meanwhile, deaths spiked for the second straight day, as Connecticut reported 94 more coronavirus-related fatalities Thursday, bringing the statewide death toll to 3,219.

State Adds COVID-19 Sample Sites But Struggles To Get More People Tested

CVS Health announced Thursday it will open a dozen new testing centers at drive-up pharmacy locations across Connecticut. The new centers will complement an existing rapid-testing site in New Haven and are part of a statewide effort to increase the number of people tested for coronavirus. 

The sites will use “self-swab” kits given to individuals who stay inside their cars. Patients must register in advance beginning Friday, May 15 to schedule an appointment. 

In a statement, the company said that residents will be directed to the pharmacy drive-through window and that “a CVS Pharmacy team member will observe the self-swab process to ensure it is done properly.”

Tests will be sent to an independent third-party lab for processing, and the results will be available in approximately three days.

The expansion to sample collection comes as Josh Geballe, the governor’s chief operating officer, said Thursday that the lab capacity needed to process coronavirus samples collected in Connecticut continues to grow. 

Geballe said the state now has “locked-in capacity” to process over 70,000 tests per week by May 20.

A spokesperson for the governor said that capacity includes all labs in Connecticut and out-of-state-commercial labs that would process samples collected from a patient.

The new CVS testing sites in Connecticut include:

  • CVS Pharmacy, 2639 Main St., Glastonbury, CT 06033
  • CVS Pharmacy, 875 Enfield St., Enfield, CT 06082
  • CVS Pharmacy, 525 Buckland Road, South Windsor, CT 06074
  • CVS Pharmacy, 7 Durant Ave., Bethel, CT 06801
  • CVS Pharmacy, 905 South Main St., Cheshire, CT 06410
  • CVS Pharmacy, 1057 Boston Post Road, Guilford, CT 06437
  • CVS Pharmacy, 479 Blue Hills Ave., Hartford, CT 06112
  • CVS Pharmacy, 3514 Main St., Coventry, CT 06238
  • CVS Pharmacy, 323 Cromwell Ave., Rocky Hill, CT 06067
  • CVS Pharmacy, 1 Hawley Lane, Stratford, CT 06497
  • CVS Pharmacy, 54 East High St., East Hampton, CT 06424
  • CVS Pharmacy, 150 Washington St., Hartford, CT 06106

For a full listing of all of Connecticut’s coronavirus testing sites, visit 211 of Connecticut.

DOL Nets Three Years’ Worth Of Unemployment Requests In Two Months

Applications for unemployment benefits since the coronavirus struck Connecticut hard in mid-March now exceed 500,000, Deputy Labor Commissioner Dante Bartolomeo reported Thursday.

That’s more than three normal years’ worth of requests in two months.

The Department of Labor has processed about 480,000 of the 515,000 applications received since March 13, or about 93%, Bartolomeo said, adding the agency also has achieved its goal of a one-week average processing time.

“Applications” and “claims” for jobless benefits are not synonymous. A claimant might file more than one application if the first contained an error, or if information had to be changed for other reasons. And while labor officials could not say how many specific individuals have sought benefits since March 13, they insist claim totals during the pandemic still far exceed those of normal conditions.

Despite ordering overtime and quadrupling the number of staff assigned to processing, the department found itself swamped by applications as the pandemic intensified.

The average wait time for processing reached six weeks as the agency began emergency programming updates to its 40-year-old system.

Bartolomeo added Thursday that the department has paid out more than $1.3 billion in state and federal unemployment benefits since mid-March.

State Attorney General Urges Vendors, Couples Planning Weddings To Work Together

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said Thursday his office has received a “steady flow of complaints” from couples and families planning weddings during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Tong said many of the complaints center on disputes between couples looking to cancel or postpone their wedding and venues charging “exorbitant” cancellation and postponement fees. 

“We’re asking people to read their contracts,” Tong said. “Work with their wedding venues. Most wedding venues are owned and operated by people who run facilities in their own towns and communities, they’re under tremendous pressure, so do what you can to work something out and go by the language of your contract.”

Tong said couples who feel they are being treated poorly by venues should call his office or the state Department of Consumer Protection.

“We can try to help,” Tong said. “And in many cases, we have been able to help, not just with weddings, but also with travel, and we’ve been able to get people their money back.”

Connecticut Mirror reporter Keith Phaneuf contributed to this report. Connecticut Public Radio’s John Henry Smith contributed to this report.