Connecticut officials and health experts say it’s only a matter of time before the global outbreak of a novel coronavirus reaches local communities in the state, but Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday the state is ready.
“We’re moving into the unknown a little bit,” he told reporters at a news conference. “This thing is moving really, really fast, and I want you to feel confident that we’re doing everything we can; that we’ve been on this for a while, paying attention, and I think Connecticut is going to be able to take the lead.”
The new virus strain causes a disease called COVID-19, which has sickened tens of thousands of people around the world and killed more than 2,700.
Connecticut has not had a confirmed case. But all hospitals are prepared to identify, isolate and treat patients.
Lamont said other state leaders, including Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell, are in Washington, D.C., working to get Connecticut’s fair share of any federal aid, as well as coordinating with national agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Right now, I feel like Connecticut is a little ahead of the game in terms of our preparation going forward,” said Lamont. “But we’re trying to coordinate with them as best as we can so we can track where this virus may be and be prepared.”
Matthew Cartter, an epidemiologist at the state Department of Public Health, said now’s the time to get ready.
“And that process is called community mitigation,” he explained. “Trying to slow this thing down, prepare the medical system so that we can handle anyone who gets sick, we can take care of our people, and try to reduce the number of people who get sick or even die if this arrives here.”
Hospitals will be monitoring supplies of protective gear like masks, gloves and other equipment.
Cartter said local and state agencies are working together to follow preparedness protocols -- those will change based on how a local outbreak progresses.
“Most likely, it is probably going to be at least like a really bad flu year, but with no vaccine and no antivirals,” he said.
In Washington, D.C., Connecticut’s 3rd District representative, Rosa DeLauro, admonished the Trump administration for proposing cuts to existing programs in order to fund the fight against the novel coronavirus.
DeLauro chairs the Health and Human Services subcommittee in the U.S. House. She says she told HHS Secretary Alex Azar she’s not happy with his department’s proposal to take funding from things like the National Institutes of Health and the Low Income Heating Assistance Program to prepare for a potential pandemic.
“The administration also asked permission to shift more than $500 million from Ebola preparedness,” she said. “That is a mistake. We are not robbing funding for other emergency activities to pay for this emergency.”
She urged Azar to submit an emergency supplemental bill with full supporting documentation, requesting funding for a response, including development of a vaccine, and support for local preparedness efforts.
But DeLauro also indicated her subcommittee, which helps craft the budget for the Department of Health and Human Services, will develop its own response to the coronavirus budget.
Meanwhile, individual municipalities in Connecticut are also thinking through their responses.
The city of New Haven staged a tabletop exercise Wednesday to flesh out its plan to respond to COVID-19. The goal is to ensure that all city internal public safety agencies and external stakeholders are sharing steps and plans for a potential emergency response.
Emergency operations director Rick Fontana illustrated the chain of people who will be notified through a flowchart.
“We’re trying to do this at a period of 90 to 120 seconds. Two minutes. A lot to be done,” he told the assembled officials. “We know it works. The system is in place, so a couple touches of a button and all of these people are called at once.”
The workshop ran through possible scenarios, describing multiple stages of a possible response, beginning with public safety and progressing to treatment and decontamination.
Lamont recommended that concerned residents visit the state government website for local updates on the disease outbreak.