Three Connecticut residents have tested positive for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). On March 10, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont declared state public health and civil preparedness emergencies. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, with cases in over 100 countries. So far, no Middlesex County residents or Wesleyan students have tested positive for COVID-19.
Of the three Connecticut residents who tested positive for COVID-19, two live in Fairfield County, and the other lives in Litchfield County. In addition, two New York residents who work in Connecticut—one doctor who carried out rounds at Bridgeport Hospital and one healthcare employee who worked at Norwalk and Danbury hospitals—both tested positive for the disease. The most recent positive case, confirmed on March 11, is the first case in the state for which officials cannot trace how the individual was infected.
“If you have a fever and a cough and you are in the southwestern part of the state, you should assume that you have COVID-19,” state epidemiologist Matthew Cartter said in an article in the Hartford Courant. “You don’t need a test to tell you that’s what you have, you should assume that’s the illness you have. Most people will get better at home, especially the younger you are. You should talk to your physician.”
The declarations of the states of emergency give Lamont the ability to close schools, prohibit large gatherings, and temporarily suspend other state laws or regulations. Decisions to close schools and cancel large events are currently being left to local municipal and public health officials, though Lamont advised that organizers postpone or cancel gatherings of 100 or more people. Lamont’s declarations also invoke a state law prohibiting price gouging during times of emergency and give municipal leaders emergency powers against disasters and emergencies.
“After the governor has declared an emergency, it is illegal to raise the price on any good sold at retail to any price that is not justified by the usual course of business or normal market factors,” Attorney General William Tong said in an article in the CT Post.
According to the Hartford Courant, Connecticut will receive $7.1 million from the $8.3 billion federal appropriation approved on March 6 to address COVID-19.
In a press release on March 11, Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim ’14 announced the cancellation of multiple upcoming city events and programs, including the Mayor’s Ball, the Arts Advocacy Award Ceremony, and multiple Senior Center programs through April 30 as part of a precautionary strategy to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the city.
Also effective March 11, Middlesex Health has changed their visitor policy in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“Under the revamped rules, patients at Middlesex Health service locations will only be allowed one visitor at a time,” a Middlesex Health press release reads. “Only immediate family members or a designated support person may visit or accompany patients. No one under the age of 18 will be allowed to visit patients unless special permission is granted. Anyone who is sick, especially those with flu-like symptoms or symptoms of coronavirus, shouldn’t visit or accompany patients at a Middlesex Health facility.”
At the time of this article’s publication, 71 other Connecticut residents have tested negative for COVID-19. Middlesex Health—which includes Middletown’s Middlesex Hospital as well as satellite emergency departments in Westbrook and Marlborough—has not yet tested anyone for COVID-19, as no one has met the Connecticut Department for Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) testing criteria yet.
“They do have a rather strict criteria for who they suggest we test,” Middlesex Health’s Infection Prevention Manager Jodi Parisi said in an interview with The Argus. “So testing is currently only done through the Department of Public Health laboratories.”
However, Parisi explained that the situation is constantly changing and that the Connecticut Department of Public Health may expand their testing criteria.
“We just have to constantly be in contact with the Department of Public Health…and know what the next step is and what the best step is,” Parisi said.
Florsheim told the public that state officials anticipate broader community transmission will be happening within a week.
“We are at a point right now where, if community transmission is not already taking place—meaning if it is not already spreading in the state of Connecticut—our top state health officials anticipate that we are about a week away from that scenario,” Florsheim said in a live Facebook video on Monday, March 9.
Connecticut State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) also spoke to the difficulties assessing the number of COVID-19 cases due to limited testing. Medical professionals throughout the country have noted that test kits are in short supply, citing a botched rollout of testing kits by the CDC.
“One of the things that is an unknown for us right now is exactly how many people in Connecticut have coronavirus,” Duff said in a Facebook Live video on March 10. “Because of the fact that we probably don’t have as many testing kits as we need to here in Connecticut…only those with really the most severe symptoms can be getting tested.”
Lamont wrote a letter to the CDC on March 5 requesting more testing kits for the state in order to keep up with heightened demand for COVID-19 testing and comply with national guidelines.
“In order to maintain alignment with national messaging, I respectfully request the ability to access additional testing kits to support the heightened demand for COVID-19 testing in Connecticut.” Lamont wrote in the letter. “I am concerned that the most recent guidelines issued by CDC cast too broad a net at this point in time and will not ensure that the right people are being tested.”
On March 6, U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), along with all of Connecticut’s U.S. Representatives, sent a separate letter to Director of the CDC Dr. Robert Redfield that echoed Lamont’s concerns and urged the CDC to provide the state with additional testing kits.
“We write today to express concern with the very limited supply of COVID-19 diagnostic testing kits that have been sent to the state of Connecticut,” the congressional delegation’s letter read. “Connecticut officials warn that greater testing is simply not possible without greater access to testing kits.”
Murphy emphasized the likelihood of an increasing number of positive cases in Connecticut, even if many of these have not yet been identified.
“I imagine we have hundreds if not thousands of cases in my state,” Murphy said in an interview on CBS’ Face the Nation on March 8. “I think we have no concept of the scope of this epidemic because we have not been able to test…. And what is unforgivable is that the administration didn’t see this coming and didn’t put the resources in early to make sure that everybody had these tests available.”
Parisi explained that if people are concerned they may have the virus, they should first have a conversation with their primary care physician over the phone, before going in-person to see their primary care physician or to receive care at the hospital. Parisi also encouraged everyone to follow the CDC’s advice for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“Wash your hands, keep your hands away from your face, your eyes, nose, and mouth,” Parisi said. “Make sure that if you are sick, you’re staying home, you’re staying away from areas that you could infect other people, you’re coughing into your sleeve and not into your hand. But if you are coughing into your hand, make sure that you’re washing your hands after. If you are in a population that could be more at risk for certain diseases, like you’re an older individual or you have an immunocompromised state, you definitely need to use those guidelines to stay healthy.”
Claire Isenegger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @claireisenegger.
Jiyu Shin can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jiyu_shin.