Three Middletown residents have died from COVID-19, Mayor Ben Florsheim ’14 announced on Thursday April, 9. The first coronavirus-related fatality in Middletown was announced by Florhseim on Wednesday, April 8, while two more were announced on April 9. One patient was in their eighties, and two were in their nineties. All three patients were receiving care at Middlesex Hospital prior to their deaths, according to Florsheim. As of Thursday, April 9 there were a total of 77 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in Middletown.
Middlesex Health Care Center and Water’s Edge Center for Health & Rehabilitation are the two nursing homes in Middletown with residents who have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont.
“I think that the message that I want to continue to impart to everybody is that we still have a ways to go and the days and the weeks ahead are going to continue to be difficult,” Florsheim said in a virtual community forum on COVID-19 hosted by the Community Health Center on Tuesday, April 7.
Florsheim also encouraged Middletown residents to continue to take precautionary measures in order to slow the virus’s spread.
“But even in that best case scenario, where we’re able to keep those numbers relatively low within our community, that’s going to be the only way that we’re going to do that is just continue doing the difficult, difficult things that we’ve been doing for the last few weeks,” he said. “That’s just going to mean continuing to stay at home…,wearing protective masks when we’re out in the community for any reason. It means changing the way that we shop, changing the way that we live, and—and really looking out for each other.”
At the time of publication, there were 205 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Middlesex County and 14 confirmed deaths associated with COVID-19. On April 9, Lamont announced that 26 people in Middlesex county with COVID-19 are currently hospitalized, 2 fewer than on April 8.
COVID-19 cases across Connecticut continued to rise from April 8 to 9. On April 9, Lamont announced that a further 1,003 residents tested positive for the virus, bringing the total number of cases in the state up to 9,784. The number of COVID-19 related fatalities also increased overnight, with an additional 45 deaths announced, bringing the total in Connecticut to 380. Over 33,502 residents have been tested.
“I think social distancing is working,” Lamont said at his briefing on April 8. “You see that, not only in terms of the number of hospitalizations flattening out a little bit, but also the growth from Fairfield to New Haven to Hartford, and then East and West is perhaps not going as fast as we had modeled at one point maybe a few weeks ago, a couple weeks ago, and again I think that’s reflective of the importance of social distancing and what a difference you’re making.”
In the community forum on Tuesday, April 7, the Chair of Middlesex Health’s Emergency Medicine Department Dr. Jonathan Bankoff told participants that they are continuing to prepare for the apex of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We are prepared,” Bankoff said. “We continue to be ready for what we feel is still coming. I will say that we’ve been consistently getting busier each day, although the ED [emergency department] volumes across our three EDs—and predominantly here in Middletown—continue to be well below our normal daily operations.”
As of Tuesday, April 7, Middlesex Health was caring for 30 patients who had tested positive for COVID-19, as well as approximately 30 patients who were presumed to have the virus, according to Bankoff. In addition, since the outbreak began, the hospital has seen as many as 20 patients on ventilators at a time, significantly higher than the three to five patients that are normally on ventilators per day.
“So as you can imagine that’s stretching our ability, our capacity, our personnel, but we are continuing to be prepared for way more than that,” Bankoff said. “We have the capacity as asked by the governor and by CHA [the Connecticut Hospital Association] to go up 50% on our volume, and we’re ready. We are hoping of course that we don’t need that.”
Due to state social distancing regulations, the Middletown Common Council met virtually for the first time in city history on Monday, April 6. During this meeting, the Common Council officially declared a state of emergency in the City of Middletown. This declaration allows the city to establish a virtual emergency operations center, which will be chaired by Florsheim and Middletown’s Director of Emergency Management and Fire Department Chief Robert Kronenberger.
“We did that not because it changes anything about the law, [or] about the national state of emergency or the state state of emergency that’s already been declared, but because those declarations can carry all of the weight when it comes to executive powers and things of that nature…,” Florsheim said. “In this case, it doesn’t mean that we’re going to be doing a lot differently, because we’ve already been trying to take that centralized, coordinated approach.”
“Middletown was fortunate that we’re in a position where we have the resources, we have the cash flow, to be able to defer those payments,” Florsheim said. “So we took sort of the most aggressive option that was allowed [to] us, which was a 90 day deferral of those property tax payments, on personal property and real estate, on motor vehicles, as well as water and sewer bills.”
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, April 7, Florsheim announced that everyone who had been staying at the warming shelter at Green Streets Art Center had been relocated to the Red Roof Inn in Meriden.
“I am grateful to all who were involved in this effort to keep our residents safe,” Florsheim wrote. “The former Arts Center will remain vacant for now in the event that it can be used again as part of the COVID-19 crisis response.”
On April 7, Florsheim also joined the mayors of Hartford, New Haven, Stamford, Bridgeport, and Norwalk, as well as Hartford City Councilman Josh Michtom, in signing a letter to Lamont and other state officials, asking them to do more to protect renters from eviction. This letter called on the Connecticut state legislature to pass a bill that would make it illegal for landlords to evict their tenants for up to 30 days after a public health emergency that lasts more than ten consecutive days. The legislation would also include a provision to make it illegal for landlords to evict tenants for 30 days after a ten-day consecutive school closure, even if a public health emergency is not declared.
“Keeping people in their homes is the right thing to do—from a public health perspective and from a humanitarian perspective,” the letter reads.
Connecticut began releasing testing data broken down by race and ethnicity on Friday, April 3 that shows COVID-19 rates are considerably higher among Black and Hispanic residents. For example, according to the testing data released on April 9, 199 per 100,000 Hispanic and 232 per 100,000 Black residents had tested positive for COVID-19, as compared to 114 per 100,000 white residents and 61 per 100,000 Asian residents.
Lamont addressed some of the reasons Connecticut is seeing differences in the rate of COVID-19 infections and related deaths based on race and ethnicity in his briefing on April 8.
“Folks in these underserved communities are less likely to be able to telecommute, more likely to be forward-facing, dealing with folks every day, more likely perhaps to be nurses, more likely to be daycare providers, more likely to be grocery store folks,” Lamont said. “They’re on our front lines, but it does put them at a little more risk if we don’t take care of them every day with the necessary PPE [personal protective equipment] that they need. They’re more likely to live in an urban environment…and in urban communities you’ll see the COVID virus spread a little more quickly.”
Lamont spoke more specifically to how the state has addressed the rapid spread of COVID-19 in lower-income, more densely-populated areas in the state.
“You’ll find congested areas are a lot more susceptible to the spread—again that tends to impact our underserved communities,” Lamont said. “Many of the folks have bigger families living in smaller apartments, so it’s tougher just a social distance within your own apartment, your own residential dwelling. We are working on that by making sure that we provide additional hotel space or other space for folks in that situation—they have a loved one at home who is either infected or has been exposed to someone who was infected contact—we’re finding them space so they don’t actually have to be at their residence, we can find them another place that they can go to make sure that they’re safe and to make sure their families are safe.”
As the state continues to prepare for the peak of COVID-19 in Connecticut, state officials are also figuring out how to manage the upcoming presidential primary. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) ended his campaign for the Democratic nomination on Wednesday, April 8 but announced that he would remain on the ballot in states that have not yet voted. Connecticut’s primary, which Lamont postponed to June 2, cannot be cancelled unless the state receives written permission from the candidates on the ballot.
Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill commented on Sanders’ withdrawal, which cleared a path for Vice President Joe Biden to become the Democratic nominee.
“That for me effectively ends the justification for holding a primary in Connecticut. Now, the results are predetermined,” Merrill said in the CT Mirror. “Then comes the announcement he will remain on the ballot, which hopefully he will reconsider.”
Merill has said that she plans to send applications for an absentee ballot to every registered voter in the state, which voters would need to fill out to receive an application. However, strict restrictions on absentee voting in CT only allow six reasons to apply for an absentee ballot. One of those reasons, “illness,” only applies to an applicant’s personal illness and thus rules out having concerns over the pandemic as a valid basis for absentee voting.
Allowing all voting by mail in Connecticut would require a constitutional amendment, which could not be adopted without a referendum during the general election in November. Lamont spoke at his briefing on Tuesday, April 7 about the future of the state’s presidential primary.
“I’m not inclined to cancel any type of a vote, and I do have a stay at home rule, so I’m going to have to find a way that people can vote, especially seniors, so they don’t have to leave their houses and go vote,” Lamont said. “So obviously the voting by mail makes a lot of sense to me. Now I need the lawyers to figure out how to draft that.”
On Wednesday, April 8, Lamont announced the creation of a medical surge plan in partnership with the state’s long-term care facilities. The plan includes the establishment of COVID-19 recovery centers in nursing homes, which would accept patients discharged from hospitals who are still impacted by COVID-19.
Lamont’s April 7 executive order required the Department of Economic Community Development (DECD) to create mandatory, legally binding statewide rules for essential businesses. The DECD’s Safe Workplace Rules for Essential Employees, which went into effect immediately, included the elimination of all non-essential workplace travel and in-person meetings and the implementation of frequent cleaning of all touch points.
“Most of it is things everybody’s already doing, but now it’s going to be clear—this is enforceable, and if you don’t do it, we’re going to tell you so,” Lamont said at his April 7 briefing. ”You’ve got to self-monitor. You’ve got to self test, you’ve got to have a fever test. And anybody who registers more than 100.4 degrees does not go to work. No questions asked…. These are the things that make an enormous difference. These are the things that we will be enforcing. These are the things that allow our manufacturing to keep going on a safe basis.”
The order also allows recent medical school and other medical profession graduates who have not been licensed yet to practice for the duration of the public health emergency. Lamont also allowed recent graduates from programs in marital and family therapy and clinical mental health to practice before being licensed while Connecticut fights the pandemic.
The Department of Labor (DOL) announced on April 8 that the agency had provided over $35 million in benefits payments to nearly 104,000 claimants for the week ending on Saturday, April 4. The DOL has processed almost 133,000 unemployment claims of the over 302,000 received since March 13.
“Since March 13, there have been 302,000 claims submitted,” Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby said at Lamont’s briefing on April 8. “Now that is two years of normal claim activity in just one month. Of those 302,000, we’ve managed to process 132,000—yet there remains 170,000 outstanding that we’re getting at as fast as we can…. We’ve quadrupled staff, we’re working overtime, we’re working weekends. As a result of that we’ve processed 10 times the normal weekly load that our processors would normally process, and all of this while staff are enduring the same COVID threats as everyone else. That’s still not enough.”
Lamont also directed all U.S. and State of Connecticut flags in the state to be lowered to half-staff for the duration of the pandemic in order to recognize and mourn those who have lost their lives and been affected by COVID-19.
“This global pandemic is impacting the lives of so many families, friends, and loved ones in Connecticut, and we mourn for those who have been impacted,” Lamont said in the press release. “This is an incredibly trying time and a tragic period in our state’s history. I continue to urge every resident of Connecticut to stay home and practice social distancing as much as possible, because not only may your life depend on it, but it could also impact the lives of others.”
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