As of Thursday April 2, 74 Middlesex County residents, including 29 Middletown residents, have tested positive for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). There have been three fatalities related to COVID-19 in Middlesex County.
“So again, we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg…. We know there’s a lot more [cases] out in the community now,” Middletown’s Public Health Manager Kevin Elak said in a virtual Middletown community forum on Tuesday, March 31.
Connecticut has a total of 3,824 confirmed cases of COVID-19, up from 3,557 confirmed cases from on April 1. In addition, 827 people have been hospitalized and 112 people have died from the disease in the state. So far, over 18,300 people in the state have been tested for COVID-19, according to Governor Ned Lamont.
On Wednesday, April 1, Lamont also announced the death of a six-week old baby from the Hartford area who had posthumously tested positive for COVID-19. This death marks Connecticut’s first pediatric fatality from COVID-19.
“Testing confirmed last night that the newborn was COVID-19 positive,” Lamont wrote on Twitter. “This is absolutely heartbreaking. We believe this is one of the youngest lives lost anywhere due to complications relating to COVID-19. This is a virus that attacks our most fragile without mercy.”
As of Thursday, April 2, Middlesex Health was caring for 14 inpatients who had tested positive for COVID-19, as well as 29 inpatients who are awaiting their test results, according to Middlesex Health’s Public Relations Director Amanda Falcone.
In the March 31 virtual community forum, Middlesex Health’s Vice President of Quality and Patient Safety Dr. Jesse Wagner estimated that between a quarter and a third of patients receiving care in the hospital were there with respiratory symptoms.
Wagner also explained that staff at Middlesex Health are preparing to see a surge of COVID-19 patients in the coming weeks, despite there currently being a decreased number of patients receiving care.
“We’ve been spending a lot, I will say all of our time preparing,” Wagner said. “Currently, overall, the health system actually has had decreased volume of patients, both in our inpatient and outpatient [clinics], as many people are choosing to stay at home rather than to come for routine care.”
“We have equipment ready, we have staff ready, and we are creating plans for surges of patients should that be necessary and feel that we’re in a good place to continue to take care of the community as things move forward,” Wagner added.
The Connecticut National Guard deployed the state’s third Department of Public Health (DPH) mobile field hospital at Middlesex Health on April 1. However, the 25-bed field hospital is not currently in use.
“We have [the mobile field hospital] in case we need it,” Wagner said. “We are not currently using it for anything, but should the volume, for example in the emergency room, go up significantly, we might be able to provide care in that tent.”
In addition to this mobile field hospital, since March 21, Middlesex Health has been evaluating and testing some patients for COVID-19 in a trailer outside of the emergency room. By doing this outside, staff hope to reduce the number of people exposed to COVID-19.
“About half of the people who go into the trailer end up coming to the emergency room,” Wagner said. “The other half were able to be discharged home without needing to come inside for additional testing. And we think that’s been successful to try to decrease the number of people who may be potentially exposed while waiting to be evaluated or seen.”
Middlesex Health is also facing a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and has asked for donations from the public.
“There is a shortage of PPE around the world, and Middlesex is no different,” Falcone wrote in an email to The Argus. “We are currently looking for face masks, disposable gloves, and ventilators…. We also continue to work to identify sources of PPE from existing and new vendors.”
Middlesex Health is also accepting monetary donations to their Emergency Response Fund. As of Thursday, April 2, the fund has raised $8,820. This money will be used to purchase PPE and other necessary supplies needed to treat patients with COVID-19. Additionally, University faculty and staff have collected a total of 15,650 pairs of gloves, 700 bonnets, 2,300 show coverings, 100 protective sleeves, 261 lab coats, 37 pairs of goggles, and 1 box of surgical face masks from various locations on campus to donate to Middlesex Health and the Middletown Health Department.
Despite the closure of city buildings and closures to city playgrounds, basketball courts, and tennis courts, essential city services—including local emergency services—remain operational.
In a Facebook post on Monday, March 30, Middletown Police Department Chief Bill McKenna reassured the public that the Middletown Police Department was making adaptations to continue to respond to calls during the pandemic. For example, officers will wear PPE when necessary and are practicing social distancing.
“We have developed new protocols to address life with COVID-19, many days and multiple times a day those new protocols are re-evaluated and adjusted as needed,” McKenna wrote. “Fortunately, the Middletown Police Department services remain 100% in effect when it comes to assisting the public in need. Some of our administrative services have been put on hold to focus our energies on the public’s safety. If there is an emergency we will be there as we always have been.”
In addition, the local officials are also working to ensure that the city’s homeless population has access to safe housing during the pandemic.
“The former Green Street Art Center is a city-owned building that was vacant, and is not only vacant but actually in very good repair and usable condition,” Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim ’14 said in the March 31 virtual Middletown community forum. “So in the space of a couple of days we got it cleaned out and got the warming center transitioned over there.”
However, the Connecticut Department of Housing recently announced that they are planning to move 60% of the state’s homeless populations into hotels in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The City of Middletown has been working with community service providers and the Connecticut Department of Housing to prepare to move the warming center population into local hotels.
“We’ve been working with all those folks to identify hotels in the area to get a plan in place for moving the warming shelter population to an off-site hotel and to make sure that all of the staffing and other elements are in place to have that model be a success, which I think it will be,” Florsheim added. “I’m really proud of Connecticut; I’m really proud of our local providers for taking what I think is [a] really…needed and well-thought approach to making sure the most vulnerable people in our city and in the state are not made more vulnerable to this circumstance.”
At the state level, preparations for an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been ongoing.
“While we have enough capacity at most of our hospitals today, that may be very different in a couple weeks,” Chief Quality Officer for Yale Medicine and Yale New Haven Health System Dr. Steven Choi said at Lamont’s briefing on April 1. “We are predicting that the worst weeks are ahead of us in the upcoming month of April.”
To support those affected by the outbreak and the resulting economic consequences, Lamont has taken a number of steps to aid the state. On Wednesday, April 1, he announced the creation of the Connecticut COVID-19 Charity Connection (4-CT) by a group of Connecticut-based philanthropists. 4-CT will provide financial support for nonprofit organizations in Connecticut through the COVID-19 crisis. As of Wednesday, April 1, 4-CT has already raised $10 million.
“It is incredible how quickly the global COVID-19 pandemic impacted our state and brought nearly every normal, daily function of our lives to a halt, and the effects are stretching thin the critical services on which so many in Connecticut rely,” Lamont said in a press release. “I am committed to working with all our partners in philanthropy to ensure that state government works in close cooperation with them and supports the mission and the generosity of all those involved.”
In response to the outbreak and the economic upheaval the pandemic has caused, Connecticut’s official health insurance marketplace Access Health CT extended their special enrollment period until April 17. This gives uninsured residents a longer period of time to enroll in a health insurance plan. In order to sign up for this special enrollment period, residents must call 1-855-365-2428.
In addition to this announcement, Lamont signed an executive order on Wednesday, April 1 that requires retail stores statewide to cap occupancy at 50% of store capacity, clearly mark six-foot spacing on the floor for lines, and install Plexiglas shields separating employees from customers at checkout lines, among other actions.
The order also creates a 60-day grace period for insurance payments and extends the state taxpayer filing deadline to August 15.
Lamont’s Tuesday, March 31 executive order requires school districts to continue to employ and pay school staff—including teachers, cafeteria staff and custodial workers—who are employed by local or regional boards of education. It also continues funding for boards of education through the end of the fiscal year on June 30 and gives the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection the power to limit visitors at state parks.
Lamont’s executive order on Monday, March 30 requires all childcare facilities to limit groups to 10 children and also requires all children and staff to be checked before entering the facility for any observable illnesses and to have their temperature taken.
On March 30, Lamont also announced that he was appointing the CEOs of Hartford HealthCare, Nuvance Health, and Yale New Haven Health as co-chairs of the Governor’s Health System Response Team. The leaders of the three hospital systems, which represent almost 70% of Connecticut’s hospital infrastructure, will advise Lamont and the DPH on allocation and distribution of resources, supplies, and personnel throughout the pandemic.
“We’re not going to be able to maximize taking advantage of the spare PPE that we have, the facilities that we have, the people that we have, unless we can coordinate that amongst our hospital systems in the most effective way possible,” Lamont said at his press briefing on March 30. “And that’s why this health system response team is so, so important…. And that’s why having this team every day, every hour, coordinating, working with all of our smaller hospitals as well to make sure we allocate space, allocate people and make sure that look, if we’re crowded in the South, maybe we got some capacity in the Northern part of the state, and it could be just the opposite in three or four weeks.”
Claire Isenegger can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @claireisenegger.
Jiyu Shin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jiyu_shin.