As Nursing Homes Resume Normal Visitation, Patient Population Remains Down

After 20 months of restrictions, on Nov. 12 family and friends of nursing home residents in Connecticut were once again able to visit at any time, on any day without a prior appointment, a significant step toward normalcy for the population hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. “This will make a significant difference this week for residents and facilities,” said Mairead Painter, the Long-term Care Ombudsman for the State of Connecticut. “Family members are going to see all the time what is happening inside facilities. It’s not at the building’s convenience anymore.”  Conditions within nursing homes and other long term

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Student Quarantines Pose a Significant Challenge for the New Normal

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Large numbers of student quarantines in districts across Connecticut may be undermining the state’s plans for a normal, fully in-person school year.  In the past six weeks, 132 students in the Region 4 schools have been sent home to quarantine for a minimum of 10 days due to potential exposure to COVID-19, according to superintendent Brian White. The district is not alone with high numbers of quarantined students.  Lyme-Old Lyme has had 41 students sent home to quarantine since classes began, Guilford has reported a total of 110 student quarantines and according to the State Department of Education it’s a

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After Tragedy, Clinton Teachers Claim Age Discrimination, Hostile Work Environment

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CLINTON — On September 27, kindergarten teacher Jack Reynolds was put on administrative leave by superintendent of schools Maryann O’Donnell. The next day he was found dead at the Pattaconk Recreation Area.  According to a letter sent on September 27 to Reynolds, O’Donnell was placing him on leave after he allegedly “struck a student on the forehead with [his] hand.”  The day he died, Reynolds was scheduled for a pre-disciplinary hearing to discuss the matter and the potential for “serious disciplinary action.”  After twenty-four years of work in the Clinton Public Schools, Reynolds’ death is a tragedy that cannot be

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Bracing for the Return of Flu Season, Doctors Encourage Vaccination

After an unusually light flu season in 2020-2021 and months without a single flu case at Yale New Haven Hospital, Dr. Scott Roberts said he is preparing for an onslaught of cases this year.  “We are all bracing for a bad winter season. Essentially everyone has had a lost year of building immunity to colds, the flu, RSV. That’s one year additionally removed from potential immunity,” said Roberts, an infectious disease specialist at Yale New Haven Health System. “If you’re asking me to make a prediction, I would say it’s going to be a bad respiratory virus season this winter.”

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The Measure of Safety for Connecticut’s Public Schools

Last year, again and again, I was told by educators and health professionals alike that “we are going to keep doing what works.” I heard the same this summer as schools reopened and prepared for in-person learning. “We know the masks work,” said Dr. Tom Balcezak, chief medical officer at Yale New Haven Health System at a July press conference.  “We have the same types of protocols as last year,” said Patty Cournoyer, the health teacher at Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School. For Lyme-Old Lyme, that means masks, some outdoor classes and lunch times, one-way traffic in the hallways and using

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Lamont Faces Pressure to Allow Funding for Air Quality in Public Schools

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After receiving $995 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan, advocates for towns, school districts, teachers, superintendents and other staff are asking the legislature to include repairs for school ventilation systems in the statewide plan for the additional federal dollars.  “The Connecticut General Assembly’s approval of Governor Lamont’s spending plan for federal funds under the American Rescue Plan must include HVAC repairs needed by local public schools across the state; and HVAC repairs must be included as part of the State Department of Education’s annual bond funding to towns for school construction and repairs,” according to Kevin Maloney of

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CEO Marna Borgstrom to Retire in March after 43 Years at Yale New Haven

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After 43 years at Yale New Haven Hospital and Health System, Chief Executive Officer Marna Borgstrom, announced that she will be retiring on March 25, of 2022.  “I have loved growing the Yale New Haven Health System and being part of this really incredible organization,” Borgstrom said.  The board of Yale New Haven Health voted this morning to appoint Chris O’Connor, the current president of the Health System, to the position upon her retirement.  O’Connor, who was born at Yale New Haven Hospital, also served as the chief operating officer at Yale New Haven Health and the head of Saint

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A Shortage of Bus Drivers Stymies Return of School Across Connecticut

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On the first day of school in Hamden, 300 students were left without a school bus route, and were told instead to take public transit or have a parent drive them to school. “We were just informed by the bus company that they do not have coverage for 7 bus routes affecting Hamden Public Schools, St. Rita’s and Sacred Heart Academy. There is a nationwide bus shortage which has impacted many school districts across the country,” read a notice posted by Hamden Middle School’s Parent Teacher Association on Saturday afternoon. According to First Student, the bus company that works with

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Yale Doctors Warn of Breakthrough COVID Infections, Counsel for Masks

As of August 23, in Connecticut 369 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19. That’s three times more than just one month ago.  “We are going to see a handful to more than 100 cases in the hospital in a cyclic fashion, up and down for about a year or two,” predicted Dr. Tom Balcezak, the chief medical officer for Yale New Haven Health System at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.  Compared to the peak in spring 2020, that surge might not seem like much, but compared to one month and one year ago, it is considerable, Balcezak said. And it’s

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Taking Stock of the Learning Losses as Schools Reopen for the Fall Semester

In two weeks, Megan Szczesny’s 8-year-old daughter will be starting third grade in Madison public schools. She hasn’t attended traditional all-day, five-day-a-week classes without wearing a mask since she was in first grade and being diagnosed with dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). “When COVID first hit in March 2020 the schools closed and we panicked,” remembered Szczesny. “Our services were cut by 85 percent, so we had to seek outside help.”  Even in a normal classroom setting, with one-on-one support and special education, Szczesny’s daughter struggled.  But without most of that support, at-home remote education was a disaster. 

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Nursing Homes Face Further Labor Squeeze With Mandated Vaccination

Last week Governor Ned Lamont signed an executive order requiring staff at all long-term care facilities in Connecticut to receive at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before September 7.  “We know for a fact that COVID-19 presents increased risk of severe illness and death among older adults, particularly those who have chronic conditions and compromised immune systems,” Lamont said. “Now that vaccines are widely available and scientifically proven to be safe and the most effective method for preventing hospitalization and death, it would be absolutely irresponsible for anyone working in a long-term care facility to not receive this

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Flooding, 7 Dead Beavers, Spark Local Action in Old Lyme

OLD LYME — Two years after the town’s Open Space Commission voted to allow beaver activity to continue unhindered on the Ames property, local officals plan to install three beaver management devices at the Whippoorwill Road and Buttonball Road culverts. “We do have a plan to address beaver activity with our mandate, and we will work with abutting property owners who are adversely affected by flooding originating on open space land,” said Gregory Futoma, a member of the Open Space Commission. This summer, during an aerial survey of the Ames property to assess the rising water levels that prevented a

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Goulding Talks COVID, Party Politics and 8 Years on the Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Ed

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After eight years on the Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education, Rick Goulding, along with three other members, including the current chair Diane Linderman, will not seek re-election this November, leaving nearly half of the seats open for first-time members. “Eight years was enough of a contribution to the community for now,” Goulding said. “We decided family-wise and job-wise it just didn’t make sense to continue.”  According to Goulding, when he first took his seat on the board in 2013 it was a very different time politically. “At the time I reached out to both parties before the election and they

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COVID Underscores Longer Trends, and a Longing to Come Together for the Faithful

On January 2, at the height of the second wave of COVID-19 cases in Connecticut, my daughter was baptized into the Catholic Church.  It was a strange ceremony, what with us all wearing masks and seated far apart, spread out across the pews, but in one way I’m grateful she was born and christened in the middle of the pandemic. It meant that my family members all across the country, who would never have been able to travel to New Haven even under normal circumstances, were able to watch and laugh right along with us as she shrieked for nearly

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As COVID Overwhelms Mental Health Availability, Providers Move to Self-Pay

Joy Zelikovsky expanded her therapy practice — Nourish the Heart Counseling — from a part-time, side hustle to a full-time job with four employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.  “We are completely full and I have a waiting list,” Zelikovsky said. “I get anywhere between two and five referrals a week.”  While that’s great for job security, Zelikovsky said, it makes the process of finding a therapist for anyone suffering from mental health disorders incredibly challenging.  “It is a serious problem ranging from available beds for residential eating disorder treatment and psychiatric problems to outpatient therapy,” she said. “We are starting

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Eastern Connecticut ‘Dreamers’ Navigate Life After Graduation, and Politics of Immigration

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Editor’s note: the subject of this story has requested anonymity as a condition for speaking on the record. His name has been changed to protect his identity. As a child, Patrick arrived in the United States as an undocumented immigrant. Without the chance to qualify for financial aid or most merit scholarships in his home state, he grew up knowing that attending college was likely impossible.  But everything changed in 2016 when he received a scholarship from TheDream.US, a private program that has provided scholarships to more than 3,000 students to attend one of more than 70 partnering colleges. “TheDream.US

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Districts Opt to Exclude Remote Learners from High School Prom

Almost every person who attended public high school has a story about prom: dress shopping, asking out a date, over-the-top photo shoots, after parties, the list goes on.  In 2020, just two months into the COVID-19 pandemic, no one was surprised when the big event was cancelled at almost every school in the state. But one year later, when most districts are able to host prom, students who have chosen to continue distance learning may still be left out. “I understand that the school wants to abide by COVID-19 guidelines, but it is completely unacceptable and unfair that distance learners

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Local and State Efforts to Change Connecticut’s Public School Curriculum Inch Forward

If House Bill 6619 passes, Connecticut will have a new curriculum available by 2023 for public school students from kindergarten through 8th grade. The bill would combine several previously proposed bills that included LGBTQ+ studies and Native American studies, and would add Asian Pacific American studies, climate change, personal financial management and financial literacy, and military service and experience of American veterans. The legislation follows protests last year that in part called for substantial changes to school curricula, and a 2019 law requiring all public schools to offer Black and Latino Studies electives.  “Recent civil and political discourse has demonstrated

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As Vaccines Show Effectiveness, COVID Cases Hit Youth

Last week, 40 percent of positive COVID-19 tests at Yale-New Haven Health were the B.1.1.7, or UK, variant. “Once [the UK variant] gets a toe-hold it overtakes the other variants and becomes the dominant variant,” said Dr. Tom Balcezak, the Chief Medical Officer at Yale-New Haven Health. “But, the vaccine prevents that spread.” In other words, the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines all prevent the spread of the UK variant in addition to the original strain.  “So, get vaccinated,” said Marna Borgstrom, CEO of Yale-New Haven Health.  As of Sunday, in Connecticut 40 percent of the state population

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Documentary Highlights Arrival of Invasive to the Lower Connecticut River

Invading the CT River- The Spread of Hydrilla from Emily DeLuca on Vimeo. More than 200 acres of the lower third of the Connecticut River is overgrown with hydrilla, an invasive aquatic plant that spreads easily on the underside of boats, tangled in paddles and latched onto life-preservers. In 2019, the plant had yet to be identified in the river.  In an effort to halt the spread, State Representative Christine Palm, D-Chester, is calling for funds to develop a statewide, coordinated management plan. “What I realized was no one knows about it,” said Emily DeLuca, a freelance multimedia journalist and

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Without Delegation Support, Danbury’s $25 Million and Charter Schools in Doubt

DANBURY — A $25 million donation hangs in the balance if Danbury Prospect Charter School remains unfunded by state legislators for a third consecutive year.  In 2018, two Charter Schools — Danbury Prospect and Norwalk Excellence — were granted an initial certificate of approval by the Department of Education, but the schools cannot open until the legislature agrees to provide funding. In February, an anonymous donor pledged $25 million to the construction of Danbury Prospect contingent on annual funding from the state. So far, the chances don’t look good.  “Funding for the charter school was not included in Governor Lamont’s

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A Debate Over Charter Schools that Complicates Partisan Lines

If Senate Bill 949 passes, all taxpayer funded schools – public, charter, vocational and magnet – will receive no less than $11,525 in funding through a combination of state and local monies.  In other words, all publicly-funded schools would receive a “foundation amount” for the first time.  “Charter schools have never received the full foundation amount, we’ve gradually been bringing it up,” said State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, co-chair of the state Appropriations Committee. In total, almost 11,000 students attend charter schools, about 2 percent of the total student population, and this year each charter school received $11,250 per pupil. 

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Legislators Aim to Bridge Connecticut’s Gap on Dyslexia

After four previous attempts by the legislature to improve Connecticut’s approach to identifying and educating children with dyslexia, the state’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee is proposing a new bill to ensure that teachers are sufficiently trained to handle students with dyslexia. Despite peer-review research suggesting that between 5 and 10 percent of the population has dyslexia, just 2,294 students across Connecticut were identified with dyslexia in the 2018-19 school year. That number amounts to well under one percent of the student population. In Connecticut, of students identified with a specific learning disability, less than one percent have also

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A New England Grain Renaissance

“There is a world of difference between fresh and commercial flour,” said Andy D’Appollonio, the owner of Still River Farm in Coventry. A difference that can best be described with one word, according to D’Appollonio, taste.  “It’s more robust,” D’Appollonio, who started growing wheat on his farm six years ago. “The bread is brown, crusty with large air holes, it’s a big difference.”  D’Appollonio is part of a grain renaissance in New England. Small, grain farms like his have popped up across the Northeast, especially in Maine.  “Bakers want it fresh,” D’Appollonio said. “When you buy local you can ensure

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Five Changes for Nursing Homes That Are Here To Stay

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the long-term care industry on its head after causing the death of 3,856 residents — more than half of the total number of deaths statewide, according to the state Department of Public Health figures. It’s unlikely that nursing homes will be the same. Here are five changes that are likely here to stay. 1. Lower occupancy, more competition, better care On average, nursing home occupancy declined 15 percent across Connecticut from January to September 2020, according to data reported by the state. That decline does not come from deaths alone.  “Consumers confidence in the model of

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Yale New Haven Health Reports ‘Zero’ Cases of Flu Across its 6 Hospitals

From Greenwich to Rhode Island, there have been no diagnosed cases of the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in the Yale New Haven Health System this season. Typically, at this time of year, there are hundreds of cases across the six hospitals in the health system.  “As of last week, we still had zero flu cases,” said Dr. Tom Balcezak, the chief medical officer at Yale-New Haven Health. “It’s one bright spot, particularly for children who are hard hit by flu and RSV each year. Due to the precautions we’ve taken for COVID-19, there will be many fewer deaths of

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Legislation Frees Stay-at-Home Commuters from a $500 Million Tax Bill, But Bends Process

The state budget proposed by Gov. Ned Lamont calls for Connecticut to concede $500 million of tax revenue — the majority from households earning more than $100,000 each year — in an effort to relieve the added burden of double taxation from as many as 110,000 tax filers in the state. These Connecticut residents in normal years would have commuted out of state to work — mainly into New York from Fairfield County — but have been working at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on the current laws, known as convenience laws, these Connecticut residents would owe income taxes

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Federal Tax Case for Commuters a $400+ Million Question for Connecticut

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In 2018, 86,606 Connecticut residents paid $1.35 billion in New York state income taxes, according to the Empire Center. That was lost revenue for Connecticut – because the state credits residents for taxes paid out of state – but it also made sense. They commuted to New York, worked in New York, and were paid in New York.  In March 2020, that all changed.  With restrictions in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, thousands of workers who typically commuted across state lines were told to work from home.  As for their taxes? It’s now unclear which state has the

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Franklin-Based Forester Talks Managed Woodlands

“When you walk through a forest that’s starting to age it just doesn’t look good,” said Joan Nichols, a professional forester based in Franklin Connecticut. “It would be like if the entire population of the state of Connecticut was all 90, it’s not good for the individuals and it’s not good for the state.”  About 65 percent of Connecticut is forested. “Anywhere you drive you see trees, and everyone loves to learn about trees,” she said. “They love to learn about trees, about forest health…everybody thinks it’s great until we got to cut trees down. Some people have a mindset

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Social Isolation Takes its Toll on Vulnerable Youth, Doctors Say

As a matter of physical health, or at least mortality, COVID-19 has left children largely unscathed. Of the more than 7,000 associated deaths in Connecticut, just 5 were in young people aged 19 and under, according to the Department of Public Health. But the isolation required by the measures taken to slow the spread of the virus has left its mark on many of Connecticut’s youngest residents.  At Yale-New Haven Health there are more children admitted after suicide attempts, more children treated with severe eating disorders and more children coming in, period, according to Dr. Claudia Moreno, a pediatric psychiatrist

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