255 Middletown residents have tested positive for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont announced on Thursday, April 23. There are a total of 545 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Middlesex County.
In a virtual community forum on COVID-19 on Tuesday, April 21, Middletown’s Public Health Manager Kevin Elak stressed that the number of confirmed cases in the city likely under-estimates the number of actual cases, due to limited testing capacity.
“We just don’t have enough testing going on in the area to really get an accurate picture of what’s going on in the area,” Elak said.
As of April 23, a total of 23,100 people in Connecticut have tested positive for COVID-19. From April 22 to April 23, an additional 631 people tested positive. The number of COVID-19 fatalities also increased overnight, with 95 people dying from the virus, bringing the total number of COVID-19 related deaths to 1,639 throughout the state. An additional 1,579 people were tested for the virus since yesterday, bringing the total number of residents tested for COVID-19 to 71,497.
Despite these increases, the number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 declined by 25 people between April 22 and 23, bringing the number down to 1,947. The first time the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients declined since the COVID-19 outbreak began in Connecticut was on April 18. However, as hospitalizations increased again on April 20, Lamont emphasized the importance of continuing to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“This is providing us with some hope, and is a sign that our social distancing measures are having an impact,” Lamont wrote on Twitter. “But 1 day of data alone does not mean we are out of the woods and can return to life as normal. Many of our hospitals and nursing homes remain under stress, and front line workers continue to battle around the clock. But with proper measures in place, we can slow down its spread.”
The first COVID-19 patient who received treatment at Middlesex Health was discharged on Tuesday, April 21 after being hospitalized for several weeks.
Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim ’14 addressed COVID-19 concerns in a Facebook live video on Sunday, April 19, speaking about both the city and Middlesex County. As of April 19, there were 67 people who had recovered from COVID-19 in Middletown, according to Florsheim, although he believes the actual number to be higher.
“Most people in Middletown who have been diagnosed are going to recover, and that’s not a reason to not take it seriously,” Florsheim said. “We are still not out of the woods in terms of the need to keep doing what we’re doing to mitigate the spread, but it’s not entirely bleak either. As serious as this situation is, and it is very serious, just because if you get it, that doesn’t mean that you’re not going to recover. And there have been many, many cases already in Middletown of people who have been diagnosed, and who have been sick and have been recovered and have recovered successfully at home.”
Despite these recoveries, Florsheim believes Middletown is not yet at the point where it can begin planning the process of reopening non-essential businesses.
“We are really not in a position yet to start to start thinking about that,” Florsheim said. “We still need to get to a point where the number of cases is going down. We need to get to a point where we have a more reliable inflow of personal protective equipment…. I will say also that this is the determination that is ultimately made by the state. The City of Middletown is not—if we wanted to open them tomorrow we wouldn’t be able to under state law…. We need to keep doing what we’re doing for a while longer in order to get these numbers moving in the right direction.”
In a virtual community forum on COVID-19 on April 21, Florsheim elaborated on the city’s need for more personal protective equipment (PPE). While Middletown has received a significant number of surgical masks, a shipment of N-95 masks intended for the city’s first responders was re-directed by the federal government.
According to Elak, the city distributes these masks to Middlesex Health and nursing homes.
Florsheim also thinks it is unlikely schools will reopen for the rest of the academic year and said Middletown schools would only reopen if it is completely safe to do so.
“If I had to guess, I don’t think we’re gonna go back this year, but that’s a question that is way above my pay grade to be able to answer,” Florsheim said. “It’s not worth the risk if there is any risk. Only once it’s clear that it is safe to send folks back, is that going to be something that we want to do here in Middletown…. If a decision is made at the state level—I don’t think it will be—but if a decision does get made at the state level that we feel is not safe for our students, then we will make a decision to keep folks out for as long as we need to.”
Ultimately, Florsheim stressed the need for an increase in testing capacity in Middletown before conversations about reopening can happen in the city and with other towns in the county.
“We’re still unfortunately not quite in a position yet where we have the testing capacity to get there,” Florsheim said. “We’re hoping to have some of that increased capacity in Middletown soon. Middlesex Hospital has not been doing any of the drive up testing…. They are so strapped for supplies that they need to make sure that they are using those tests in the most critical, sort of most acute cases. And so again, testing capacity is continuing to be the issue that really bedevils us and a lot of other communities…. But I do think that once we start having that reopening conversation, that coordination around going back to school coordination around when our libraries, our senior centers open back up, coordination around when grocery stores open back up, between Middlesex County towns—between our neighboring towns in the Hartford region, too—would be a really prudent thing to do.”
Lamont’s April 17 executive order, which took effect on Monday, April 20, requires any person in a public place in Connecticut to cover their nose and mouth with a mask or cloth face covering if they cannot maintain proper social distancing. The order also requires masks or face coverings while using taxis, cars, ride-sharing services, public transit, or transit stops and waiting areas. Those who are unable to wear masks or cloth face coverings due to medical conditions are exempted from the requirement.
Lamont spoke at his April 22 briefing about the possibility of expanding contact tracing—interviewing people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to figure out who they have been in contact with—within Connecticut. According to Lamont, volunteers are already carrying out contact tracing in New Haven.
“Connecticut’s gonna do it right, we’re going to do it on an absolutely voluntary basis, we’re going to do it on an anonymous basis,” Lamont said. “It’s there to help keep you safe and keep your friends safe who you’ve been in contact with. So when we do it on the personal basis, when the monitor’s giving you a call like they’re doing in New Haven, you can decide whether you want to participate or not…. I want people to have confidence that we respect their individuality, their anonymity that’s not going to be made public, and I do encourage people to participate because it will slow the rate of increase.”
On Tuesday, April 21, Lamont announced that Hartford HealthCare would significantly increase its testing capacity from 500 to 2,500 tests a day in an effort to ramp up COVID-19 testing in urban areas.
“The health disparities when it comes to COVID-19 are real, and this expansion of testing, particularly in our urban communities, is a way for the state and its hospitals to go into these neighborhoods proactively and make sure our residents have access to the testing they need to help get through this crisis,” Lamont said.
Lamont announced on April 19 that the state’s nursing homes would receive an additional $65 million in Medicaid payments, adding 5% to the previously announced increase of 10%. The state Department of Public Health will also be conducting physical, on-site visits to all 215 nursing homes in Connecticut. State health officials confirmed on Monday, April 20 that over half of all COVID-19 related deaths in Connecticut involved nursing home residents. In addition, Lamont’s April 24 executive order mandates that all nursing homes provide daily status reports to the state, with a civil penalty of up to $5000 for nursing homes that fail to comply.
On Wednesday, April 22, Lamont announced that 397,000 unemployment claims had been filed in Connecticut since March 13, and 320,000 have been processed.
Lamont also postponed the state’s presidential primary for a second time, rescheduling the election from June 2 to August 11. This will coincide with other federal, state, and local primaries that were scheduled to be held on August 11, allowing the presidential primary to appear on the same ballot as these other races.
“I support the governor’s decision to move the primary to August 11 to coincide with our state and federal primary,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said. “This date change will allow us to make it easier to protect the health and safety of voters and local election officials, prepare for the anticipated increase in demand for absentee ballots, save towns money, and let voters make their voices heard in the presidential primary process, all by holding one primary instead of two.”
Claire Isenegger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @claireisenegger.
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