Five Middlesex County residents have tested positive for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). According to the Middletown Press, the first three confirmed patients reside in East Hampton, Portland, and Killingworth. At the time of publication, the mayor’s office had not been informed of any cases in Middletown.
In response to the virus’s spread, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont and Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim ’14 have taken a number of steps to curb the spread of COVID-19. These include temporary statewide closures of public schools and various non-essential businesses, the closure of Middletown City Hall, disaster relief measures for workers and businesses affected by the virus, and postponing the presidential primary from April 28 to June 2. Florsheim told The Argus there are currently no further closures planned.
The first Middlesex County resident tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, March 18, and Governor Ned Lamont announced the following day that two more Middlesex residents had tested positive. At his press briefing on March 20, Lamont announced that the total number of Middlesex residents who tested positive had increased to five. At the time of publication, a total of 194 patients in Connecticut had tested positive for COVID-19. Lamont explained that up to 1,000 tests were being conducted per day. Forty patients with COVID-19 are currently being treated in Connecticut hospitals.
According to Middlesex Health’s Public Relations Director Amanda Falcone, told The Argus that the first three of the Middlesex County patients with COVID-19 were tested at Middlesex Health. Two of these patients have since been discharged, and the other is currently receiving care at Middlesex Hospital in Middletown.
There are now cases of COVID-19 in every single Connecticut county: Fairfield (122 cases), Hartford (29 cases), Litchfield (8 cases), Middlesex (5 cases), New Haven (23 cases), Windham (2 cases), Tolland (4 cases), and New London County (1 case).
On top of a rapidly increasing number of cases, Connecticut saw its first four deaths from COVID-19 this week, all from Fairfield County. The first death was an 88-year-old man from Ridgefield, who had received treatment at Danbury Hospital. A 91-year-old New Canaan resident became the second victim of COVID-19 that evening. The third victim, announced on March 19, was another New Canaan resident in his 80s. Both of the men lived in private homes, according to a press release from Lamont. Lamont announced the fourth death on March 20.
Florsheim said on Wednesday that while there are no confirmed cases in Middletown at this time, the number of confirmed cases should not be equated to the actual number of cases in Middletown.
“The confirmed number…shouldn’t be interpreted as a reflection of the actual number of cases, it’s likely quite a bit higher than that,” Florsheim said in a live Facebook video. “We are not testing at the rate of infection and we have to assume that this is now spreading in the community…. We have to be prepared for the possibility that there are already cases in Middletown that we just don’t know about yet, and if there aren’t yet, then there may very well be in the next few days.”
As the number of COVID-19 cases in Connecticut continues to rise, Lamont has continually implemented new measures to deal with the outbreak. On March 19, he announced the postponement of the state’s presidential primary from April 28 to June 2.
“Faced with an unprecedented health crisis throughout our state, we need to do all we can to protect the health and safety of Connecticut residents, especially our most vulnerable citizens,” Lamont said in a press release. “During these difficult times, we also want to make sure that democracy is not impacted and voters can still cast their ballots safely. Rescheduling the primary election will enable voters to still safely participate in our state’s elections while also protecting their health and the well-being of those who help to carry out elections—our town clerks, registrars, voters and dedicated poll workers.”
Lamont also announced on Monday, March 16 that he would be joining Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York and Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey in adopting a regional approach to COVID-19. The three states limited social and recreational gatherings to 50 people, temporarily required restaurants and bars to shift to providing only take-out and delivery services, and closed movie theaters, gym and fitness centers, and casinos. Bars that do not serve food were temporarily closed altogether.
Later that evening, Lamont and the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribal Nations announced a two-week closure of casino and resort properties on sovereign reservation lands in eastern Connecticut beginning March 17. This agreement is historic, as the Foxwood and Mohegan Sun casinos have never been closed to guests in their decades of operation.
On Wednesday, March 18, Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania joined the tri-state area’s governors in adopting those measures. The four governors also announced that large shopping malls, amusement parks, and bowling alleys would all be closed by 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 19.
Lamont issued more executive orders since declaring a state of emergency on Tuesday, March 10 in order to combat the spread of COVID-19, which included actions like the closure of hair salons, barbershops, and tattoo and piercing parlors, the cancellation of public schools through at least March 31, and a waiver of the requirement of 180 days of school. The State Department of Education is also seeking a waiver for the standardized testing requirements that each school needs to complete annually from the U.S. Department of Education.
The Connecticut Department of Labor has been processing around 10,000 unemployment insurance claims per day—nearly 20 times the normal daily amount—according to a press release from Lamont. Since Friday, March 13, more than 72,000 claims have been filed. The state has been taking steps to support small businesses while many are closed.
Lamont announced on Monday, March 16 that small businesses and nonprofit organizations in Connecticut are eligible to receive disaster relief loans of up to $2 million from the U.S. Small Business Association after his request for emergency relief was approved.
The Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) also launched the COVID-19 Business Emergency Response Unit in order to help businesses navigate the consequences of the pandemic. According to The Connecticut Business & Industry Association, in a conference call on March 19, DECD Commissioner David Lehman told those on the call that 80% of Connecticut businesses expect their sales or revenue to decline. At present, 50% of state businesses are operating at full capacity, 39% at reduced capacity, and 12% are closed.
In addition to measures taken at the state level, the City of Middletown has taken a number of steps to curb the spread of COVID-19 locally. In a letter to Middletown residents on Friday, March 13, Florsheim announced a number of measures aimed at slowing the virus’ spread.
Middletown City Hall will be closed to the public from March 16 until March 27. Essential city services including police and fire services will continue to operate as normal during this period. Also, all City Commissions and Committees—except Education and Board of Assessment and Appeals—will be cancelled until April 5.
“We are taking these steps because public health professionals have determined that limiting interpersonal contact is the best method for avoiding widespread transmission, and we believe that city government must lead by example in this regard,” the letter reads.
While Middletown Public Schools will remain closed under Lamont’s executive order, “Grab and Go” meals are being served Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Snow Elementary School, Bielefield Elementary School, Macdonough Elementary School, Spencer Elementary School, and Woodrow Wilson Middle School. These meals will be served until schools re-open.
The City is also partnering with local restaurants to offer a one-time weekend meal assist program on Saturday March 21 and Sunday March 22. Approximately 1,300 meals will be provided by local restaurants (either five or six restaurants are assigned to each pick up location). Meals can be collected between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. on both days at Bielefield, Snow, Macdonough, and Spencer Elementary Schools.
On March 16, the City also announced that all playgrounds, basketball courts, and tennis courts would be closed indefinitely, while parks remain open.
Florsheim told The Argus that the City of Middletown is waiting for more guidance on whether to extend the closures.
As the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) continues to carry out testing at the State Laboratory, Connecticut residents can now be tested at 15 drive-thru locations throughout the state, although there are currently no locations in Middlesex County. The drive-thru testing facility closest to Middletown is MidState Medical Center, approximately 10 miles from Middletown.
Middlesex Health is also currently in the process of setting up an outdoor testing facility.
“Earlier this week, we placed a trailer and tent in front of the Middletown Emergency Department entrance on Crescent Street,” Middlesex Health’s Public Relations Director Amanda Falcone wrote in an email to The Argus. “We still need to secure the necessary approvals, but this setup should ultimately allow us to evaluate patients outdoors who may have COVID-19.”
Falcone explained that individuals who think they may be exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 should first contact their primary care provider.
“If you don’t feel well, including if you think you may have COVID-19, you should call your primary care provider, and they will help you determine your next steps, which may include just staying home and isolating.”
Despite this action, state and local officials across Connecticut are struggling to deal with a rising number of cases amid what they feel is a lack of support from the federal government.
“We really need leadership from the national government, from the federal government on this,” Florsheim said.
Connecticut’s congressional delegation has also voiced similar concerns about the Trump Administration’s response to the pandemic.
“This administration still doesn’t have a plan to stop the virus,” U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) said in an interview with WTNH News 8. “That’s what is so scary, is that we are still not testing enough people, there is still not enough help for hospitals, the president is sending mixed messages every day about the importance of young people social distancing. This administration needs to recognize that their number one job has to be stopping the virus, and that’s not happening.”
The DPH submitted its first request for resources from the Strategic National Stockpile on Wednesday, March 11 for 250,000 face/surgical masks, N95 respirators, surgical gowns, gloves, and other materials. The DPH expects the first shipment to arrive in the next few days.
“I think the federal government’s been very slow off the draw on this,” Lamont said in a press conference on March 20. “Obviously it’d be a lot more effective if the feds had stepped in two, three, four months ago, ordered the masks, ordered the gowns, ordered the ventilators, we’d be in a much better position…. The governors are taking a lead.”
However, in response to requests from governors across the country for increased support from the federal government, President Trump urged state governments to seek out these necessary medical supplies independently.
“Governors are supposed to be doing a lot of this work, and they are doing a lot of this work,” Trump said on Thursday, March 19. “The federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping. You know, we’re not a shipping clerk.”
The State of Connecticut is encouraging all residents to follow the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) advice to thoroughly wash their hands, to stay at home if they are sick, and to disinfect surfaces and objects that they regularly come into contract with. More information can be found on the CDC and State of Connecticut website’s.
Corrections: a previous version of this article stated that those wishing to participate in the one-time weekend meal assist program would pick up food from local restaurants. Instead, food can be picked up at Bielefield, Snow, Macdonough, and Spencer Elementary Schools.
The article also stated that, “Falcone and the DPH said that individuals should not go to one of these locations to be tested without first being referred for testing by their healthcare provider.” Falcone clarified that healthcare providers can help patients determine what to do next, which may just be self-isolating at home.
A previous version of this article also misspelled Middlesex Health’s Public Relations Director Amanda Falcone’s name as “Fulcone.”
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.