HARTFORD — In a 30-minute press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Governor Ned Lamont urged healthy citizens to donate blood, daycares to stay open, and people over 60 to stay home, in the face of the Coronavirus outbreak, while also acknowledging that this crisis has led to pain for the business community and a massive spike in unemployment claims.
“We usually have about 40,000 people over the last average couple years on unemployment compensation,” Lamont said in a televised conference outside his Hartford residence. “That’s been in pretty good times. Usually when a recession comes in a place like CT, maybe the number’s go up to 5,000 people a week applying for unemployment compensation. Yesterday 10,000 people applied to the Department of Labor for unemployment compensation. It gives you an idea of the scale of what we’re trying to work.”
Lamont said his labor department is expanding eligibility for unemployment to cover hourly workers and independent contractors, furloughed workers, people who are not currently actively seeking work, and people whose hours have been scaled down between 10 and 60 percent.
The press conference comes one day after Lamont and the governors of New York and New Jersey declared that they would close bars, movie theaters and gyms. They also forbade restaurants from seating customers and limited food establishments to takeout and delivery services.
“I come out of small business,” the governor said, “I know what’s happening with small business, and folks are terrified.”
David Lehman, the state’s commissioner of economic and community development, said that Connecticut has became eligible for disaster relief from the Small Business Association and that the federal government will delay many tax deadlines.
At the state level, Lehman said that the state’s student loan provider — CHESLA — is able to delay student loan payment deadlines for borrowers in financial hardship and that payments on loans to small businesses through the state Small Business Express program may be delayed by three months.
Lamont noted that Congress and the Trump administration are considering aid packages that would include “significant infusions of cash” as well as paid family and medical leave.
But he added, “We can’t count on the feds. We’re going to have to step forward to be able to fill that gap, especially on a timely basis.”
He said that the state’s HUSKY healthcare program and Affordable Care Act exchanges are open for enrollment and that they’re expecting a major infusion of funds soon from the federal government.
Lamont also urged daycare centers to stay open, saying that they would be essential for taking care of the children of first responders who could not be home with their own children.
He also said that the Red Cross has been noticing a drop in blood donations. The governor assured residents that it was safe to give blood and that it would be essential for saving lives amid this health crisis.
“We need your blood donations now,” he said. “You don’t have to worry. You’re totally separated in terms of distance. No worry in terms of COVID. This is a time we need folks to step up and the Red Cross needs your help.”
Lamont: no confirmed cases in eastern Connecticut, “but we know it’s coming”
“We’re just at the beginning of this,” said state epidemiologist Matthew Cartter during the press conference, adding that the virus will in time move across the state.
68 state residents have so far tested positive for COVID-19, but Cartter said that given how influenza spreads, we should assume there are about 100 times more people who have contracted the virus, but not been tested, bringing the statewide estimate to about 6,000 diagnosed and undiagnosed cases.
“Many more people have COVID-19 than those 68,” Cartter said. “This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
The bulk of the positive tests are in Fairfield County, but they’ve also been found in New Haven, Hartford and Litchfield Counties, said Lamont.
“Southeast Connecticut is the last to [not yet] have an incident, thankfully, but we know it’s coming,” Lamont said.
All patients who show potential symptoms of the disease are tested when they are admitted to the state’s hospitals, Cartter said. Test results in hospitals in the state’s east have simply not come back positive yet.La
Cartter said that the most important statistics to measure how to respond to the outbreak will be the rate that people who contract the virus are hospitalized and the rate at which they die. At least 26 people have so far been hospitalized in the state due to the virus and “that number will grow,” he said.
Lamont said that the state does not have to see the illness advance to the same severity as has been seen in Italy, and instead with proper social distancing the outbreak could be more controlled as has been seen in South Korea and other parts of Asia.
One audience member asked if Lamont was considering more dramatic measures, such as a shelter-in-place order that has been enacted by parts of southern California and that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio today told his citizens to be ready for.
Lamont responded that Connecticut residents have “stepped up” and that mayors, superintendents, and businesses have taken serious steps even though it’s been hard.
“I think the people of Connecticut understand the scope of what we’re confronting on a voluntary basis they’re stepping up and doing the right thing,” he said.
He then urged residents over 60 to stay home and for younger people to also minimize their exposure to other people.