20 Percent Spike in Drug Overdose Deaths Across Connecticut in 2020

Statewide, drug overdose deaths in 2020 are on track to surpass the 2019 record by 20 percent, according to the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Those numbers come on top of a reported 18 percent increase in deaths in 2019 over the previous year. In response to the increase, Gov. Ned Lamont declared Monday, August 31 Overdose Awareness Day in Connecticut. “Addiction is an illness that should be treated just as any other public health emergency, and we cannot allow this epidemic to continue consuming our families and residents,” said Lamont. “We need to send the message

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UConn President Warns Lawmakers of Spending Cuts, $73.8 Million Deficit

The University of Connecticut will begin the school year this week with a projected deficit of $73.8 million for fiscal year 2021, and that’s the best-case scenario. If students are forced to leave campus early due to an outbreak of COVID-19, the university could see a $116.2 million deficit. In an attempt to offset the financial impact, UConn President Tom Katsouleas told lawmakers on Friday that the state’s flagship university is planning to cut between $48 and $60 million from a budget of just over $1.5 billion. “There are not enough paper clips to cut to make this difference. We

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1 in 4 Students to Opt out of Classrooms in the Fall: A Deep Dive into the Numbers

Every public school district in Connecticut is required to offer a distance learning option for parents unable or unwilling to return their children to in-person education in the fall And nearly all of Connecticut’s 530,000 public school students have the option to resume at least partial in-classroom instruction. But after reporting startling disparities in student participation in remote education in the spring, parents, and school officials serving some of Connecticut’s most disadvantaged students, are again adopting a remote model for learning in the fall. Most other districts have opted to offer a hybrid mix of in-class and distance learning, apparently

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School Reopenings Across Connecticut Ignore State Guidance, Raise Issues of Childcare

“Schools are the biggest single provider of childcare in all of Connecticut,” said Beth Bye, commissioner for the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood in an interview with CT Examiner on Friday afternoon.  And according to the most recent data — judging by the standards released on July 30 by the Office of the Governor — every school district in every county in Connecticut can return this fall to classroom instruction. So the decision of nearly a hundred towns to adopt a hybrid model of instruction — combining distance learning and in-class instruction — misses the role of classroom education in

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Shoreline Menus Finds Success Providing a Local Alternative For Food Deliveries

“During the height of the pandemic, I did 75 percent of my sales through delivery,” said Alex Foulkes, the co-owner of Penny Lane Pub in Old Saybrook. “Going into this fall, I think restaurants that have a good delivery presence will make it and those that don’t, won’t. You’re going to see a lot of die off, unfortunately.” As dining moves indoors with the cooler weather, Foulkes says he hopes that his other venture, Shoreline Menus, can help local restaurants and main streets survive. Launched less than two years ago as an alternative to GrubHub and DoorDash, Shoreline Menus offers

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With 19 Nursing Homes Across Connecticut, Genesis Healthcare Warns it May Fall Victim to Costs of Pandemic

The occupancy rate of the 19 Genesis Healthcare nursing home facilities in Connecticut dropped by 23 percent between April and June of 2020 compared with 2019, the largest decline for any state in the nation. At the same time, the hourly wage for nursing staff rose by 45 percent as facilities increasingly relied on agency labor to fill in the gaps as employees contracted COVID-19 or took time off to care for their families. “These are astonishing figures that highlight just how wide the range of impact can be on skilled nursing facilities located in markets having high prevalence of

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As Connecticut Schools Prepare for Fall Classes, Officials Work to Prevent Loss of Music Instruction and Athletics

Within the next three weeks, every public school district in Connecticut will be starting classes. And every district, except New Haven, will be offering at least some in-person education. But whether those classes include music instruction remains uncertain. “When the reopen advisory committee began they were talking about removing some of the pieces of curriculum that could not possibly be delivered safely, like music, where there is a lot of potential for exposure,” said State Sen. Eric Bethel, R-Watertown, ranking member on Connecticut General Assembly’s Education Committee. “All of us on the Education Committee agreed this is something we had

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Positive Test Gives East Haddam Schools a Preview of Fall COVID Procedures

EAST HADDAM — Last week, East Haddam Public Schools received word that a participant in their summer school programming tested positive for COVID-19. “When I got the call, I was in a little bit of disbelief because our numbers here are incredibly good,” said Brian Reas, East Haddam superintendent. “But it was good to have a run of the process when there are so few people involved.” The process – which every school district will follow if they have a staff member or student test positive for COVID-19 – involves extensive contact tracing, two-week quarantines for everyone deemed at risk,

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‘Living Shoreline’ off Fenwick Approved, Includes Granite, Dune and Tidal Marsh

More than a year after the waters of the Long Island Sound breached a sand dune offshore of Fenwick, the Lynde Point Land Trust living shoreline project was approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the local zoning commission. The project will span 450 feet of coastline and include granite sills, new fill, tidal marsh creation, a restored dune with native plantings and a cobble beach in front of the property. The project will also relocate Crab Creek within the marsh in an attempt to prevent future damage to the dunes. “The

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State Officials Call Tuesday Primaries a ‘Learning Experience’ for November Elections

With more than eight times the usual number of absentee ballots cast in many municipalities across the state, Tuesday’s primary election has given the Secretary of the State and local registrars a lot to consider as November approaches. “Yesterday was a giant lesson and looking toward November we are of course worried about everything,” said Gabe Rosenberg, the communications director for the Connecticut Secretary of the State. “It was obviously a learning experience to do this and now do it again for a pretty important election in November.” According to Rosenberg, the number one challenge facing the state and municipalities

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In Interview, Ojakian Explains Retirement, Lists Proudest Achievements, Plans for Reopening

After 41 years in public service to the State of Connecticut, Mark Ojakian announced today that he will retire from his role as president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system at the end of 2020. “When I look at what I’ve accomplished and when I look at the team that is in place now, I see an incredibly strong and committed board of regents and a team that will be able to operate once I’m gone,” Ojakian said in an interview with CT Examiner shortly after the official announcement was made. “I wanted to leave on a high

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Formica and Cheeseman Announce Long-Delayed $1.73 Million FEMA Reimbursement for East Lyme

EAST LYME — Nearly eight years after Hurricane Sandy and nine years after Hurricane Irene wreaked havoc on the Connecticut shoreline, East Lyme finally received a combined $1.73 million reimbursement check from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “Those two hurricanes encompassed a lot of my time in the town of East Lyme and my tenure as first selectman,” said State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme. “I pushed FEMA very hard along with now-Representative Holly Cheeseman to qualify and now it’s finally paid off.” Nearly every other shoreline town – including Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, all the way down to

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State Audit Again Questions Lack of Guidelines for Special Education Spending

Schools across Connecticut spend 7.2 percent of district budgets on tuition for special education students to attend alternative schools, according to a 2018-19 report released by the state Department of Education. Tuition for these alternative schools makes up $667 million of the $9.2 billion spent on education in the state. Despite that scale of the funding — some of it federal, some state and some local – a recent audit report by the Connecticut State Auditors of Public Accounts noted that it is not possible to determine whether these public dollars are properly spent, given that there are no guidelines

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99% of Old Lyme Loses Electricity — Tops in Connecticut — as Emergency Warning System Goes Silent

Within hours of Tropical Storm Isaias hitting the shoreline of Connecticut on Tuesday more than 99 percent of residents and businesses in Old Lyme had lost power. Two days later, 78 percent are still in the dark. Statewide, Old Lyme was the municipality with the highest percentage of outages and East Lyme had the highest number of customers without power. By 4 p.m. “we lost all our ability to communicate on Tuesday,” said Dave Roberge, the emergency director of Old Lyme, on Thursday morning. “We lost phone, internet, electronic communication and were unable to send out a reverse 911 until

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Lawyers and Legislators Debate Costs and Benefits as Policing Bill is Signed into Law

On Thursday Governor Ned Lamont signed into law “An Act Concerning Police Accountability,” after two late nights of debate in the House and the Senate. The legislation includes more than 40 substantive changes to policing in Connecticut, from new requirements regarding the use of lethal force to provisions for allowing civilian review boards on the municipal level, but the public debate and politics surrounding the bill has nevertheless focused overwhelmingly on Section 41 of the bill, which addresses the issue of qualified immunity for police officers.  Proponents of the bill, including State Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, and State Sen. Gary

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Test Delays Raise Questions — Spur Efforts to Reduce Wait — for COVID-19 Diagnoses

Whether to go to work, to travel out-of-state, be admitted to a hospital or for some just to visit friends and family, many individuals across Connecticut are required to take a diagnostic test for COVID-19. The test, which is now widely available and reimbursed by insurance companies, indicates whether an individual is carrying the virus at the time of the procedure. But with the results taking on average a week to arrive, they may already be overtaken by new infection and no longer accurate. “Demand for our molecular diagnostic testing remains high as the virus has spread across much of

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Interim Commissioner Describes $21 Million Deficit, Declining Prison Population and Infections

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With increased overtime, sick leave and inmate medical costs, the state Department of Corrections ended fiscal year 2020 with a $21 million deficit. “At the peak time of COVID-19 in April, we were averaging 320 staff members out sick per day for all three shifts,” explained Interim Commissioner Angel Quiros at an Appropriations Committee meeting on Monday afternoon. “In May and June, it started decreasing to 15 percent of our staff, but we saw an increase as soon as the executive order was signed by the governor allowing individuals who used their 14-day COVID leave, but tested positive, to have

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Late Start, Short Season, Regional Competition for High School Sports in Connecticut

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference announced Friday that fall sports competition will not begin until September 24 and will last just six weeks. “There were two key factors at play in pushing back the start date for games,” said Glenn Lungarini, the executive director of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference. “We wanted our schools to have the best chance to get back in-person or hybrid and the recommendations from our doctors and athletic trainers was that it is important to have a prescribed build-up of training since the students haven’t had any structured activity for six months.” In other words,

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New Guidance Suggests Middlesex County Schools on Track for Reopening, While New London County Lags

One week after school districts across the state were required to submit “return to school plans,” outlining in-person, hybrid and remote models of instruction, local school officials have been given guidance by the state for switching between the three plans of schooling. According to an addendum released on Thursday to the Connecticut Department of Education plan for reopening schools, local school officials are expected to base reopening decisions on “indicators of the spread and prevalence of COVID-19 in the community” and the ability of local schools to cope with the virus, given the the physical and operational constraints of district

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State Senate Approves Wide-Ranging Police Accountability Bill 21 – 15

On Tuesday night, the Connecticut State Senate voted 21 to 15 to approve an expansive police accountability bill including restrictions on qualified immunity and changes to “use of force” guidelines for police officers. “This is an issue about power, about how power is used in communities. This is an issue about cost for communities,” said proponent of the bill State Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, in an impassioned speech one hour into the more than 9-hour debate over the contentious bill. “This bill is not about the good officers. It’s about the officers who do not do their job …

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Connecticut State Colleges and Universities Teeter with Limited Assistance, Uncertain Enrollment, Fear of a Second Outbreak

As the start of the 2020-2021 academic year approaches, the Connecticut State College and University system has a $10 million deficit caused by spring semester room and board refunds that were not fully reimbursed by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. “Moving forward our best bet is to get assistance from the Coronavirus Relief Fund,” said Ben Barnes, chief financial officer for the state college and university system. Although the Federal Emergency Relief Act has verbally confirmed that the college and university system will receive some funds, so far the system has not received any funding

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More Questions than Answers for Fall School Reopening Across Connecticut

With reopening school plans completed – including in-person, hybrid and remote models in each district – there still seem to be more questions than answers for parents, students and educators alike. For instance, what would determine whether school really does return in-person, as is currently the plan, or if districts will be told to use their hybrid or remote models instead. “We were told we would get those cut offs, like very specific cuts offs, but nothing yet,” said Ian Neviaser, superintendent of Lyme-Old Lyme Schools. “It seems like whether or not our schools close or all districts close will

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House Passes Wide-Ranging Police Accountability Law, Votes Down Amendment to Strip Qualified Immunity Provisions

After more than 22 hours of discussion and debate in the legislative special session, the House of Representatives voted 86 to 58 to approve a wide-ranging police accountability bill written in wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and months of protests against police brutality across the country. The bill was immediately sent to the State Senate. “What we have before us is the best pro-police accountability bill and I’m convinced that the majority of officers in Connecticut would welcome it,” said State Rep. Edwin Vargas, D-Hartford. Prior to the vote, State Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, a

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42 Percent Jump in Boaters — Limited Instruction — Spurs Local Complaints About Safety and Broken Rules Across Southeast Connecticut

“We have many new customers and the phone is ringing off the hook for boat rentals which we don’t even do,” said Larry Trickett of Guilford Boat Yards. “Whoever is able to do boat rentals is making a killing this year.” After three months of stay-at-home orders and most indoor activities still limited, water sport activity is up throughout the state. According to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, 42 percent more people were issued a certificate of personal watercraft operation between January 1 and July 23 of this year compared with the same period last year. In total,

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$600,000 Urban Development Grant Funds Sidewalk Project in Pawcatuck, a Half a Century in the Making,

STONINGTON — After more than half a century of advocating and waiting, the patchwork of sidewalks along Route 1 in Pawcatuck is expected to be completed. “Last week we found an old article from the 1960s about how sidewalks were needed on South Broad Street and now because of the hard work and perseverance of many elected officials they will be,” said Danielle Cheesebrough, the first selectman of Stonington. “People are so happy and so hopeful after decades of advocating. It’s a very welcome piece of good news.” On Tuesday, the state Bond Commission plans to approve a set of

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Daycare Industry Squeezed Between Dropping Enrollments and Growing Need as Connecticut Moves to Reopen from COVID

Four months after the Governor declared a state of emergency to slow the spread of COVID-19 and two months after the state began reopening, Connecticut’s childcare industry is operating at just 40 percent of its pre-COVID capacity, according to Commissioner of Early Childhood Beth Bye. “Three weeks ago, we were at just 16 percent capacity and now we have more than doubled that,” Bye said. “But at the same time, as it reopens, it’s very uneven.” Uneven, in the sense that in some areas of the state daycare providers are struggling to fill available slots and in others, families with

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Unions Press Local Districts Across Connecticut to Renegotiate Policies for Reopening Schools

Local teachers’ unions across the state, encouraged by the Connecticut Education Association, are asking school districts to negotiate policies for reopening schools in the fall, given the changes that will be required of staff. They are requesting that superintendents and boards of education sit down and negotiate under the Teacher Negotiations Act, which gives unions the right to negotiate whenever working conditions are altered.   “Successfully reopening schools depends largely on local districts ensuring a real voice for all stakeholders — educators, parents and other school community members — in establishing a safe and healthy school environment,” said the Association’s President

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High School Sports to Resume in Fall even as Students Remain Cohorted in the Classroom

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference plans to begin the school year with students allowed to compete in every fall sport if COVID-19 cases in the state remain low. “For the fall we are cautiously optimistic to return as scheduled, but not as normal,” said Glenn Lungarini, the executive director of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference. “Based on the numbers in Connecticut and the Governor’s reopening plans we will be able to start football on August 17 and all other sports August 27.” The conference released rules based on guidance provided by the National Federation of State High School Associations and

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Legislature Opts for Deliberation — Not Haste — in Tackling Nursing Home Reforms After Wave of COVID Deaths

With about 60 percent of 4,338 COVID-19-related deaths in Connecticut occurring in nursing homes, the need for reform in the industry and the potential for increasing penalties for health code violations have become commonplace talking points among state legislators. That said, the issues are not expected to be addressed by legislators in summer or fall special sessions. “Changing penalties is not at the level or urgency for the special sessions,” said State Sen. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, co-chair of the Public Health Committee. “My job is to make sure we take our time and look at all the possibilities.” Steinberg said

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