Clinton Schools Await State Guidance on Masks, Request Local Feedback on Spending

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Clinton schools are looking for public feedback on its reopening plan for the fall and how to use $1.7 million of federal dollars the town is expected to receive under the American Rescue Plan Act. Every school district in Connecticut must create a “safe return to in-person instruction” plan to access federal funding. The town’s current plan is to drop the remote learning option, but continue with masks and social distancing, in accordance with current state guidelines.  At a Board of Education meeting on Monday, superintendent of schools Maryann O’Donnell said that the plan is still dependent on state guidance.

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Bill to Phase Out PFAS Heads for Approval by Unanimous Vote

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A type of man-made chemicals found in consumer packaging and firefighting foam will likely be phased out in the state of Connecticut because of their suspected negative effects on the environment and public health.  A bill that aims to end the use of firefighting foam and food packaging passed 146-0 in the State House of Representatives on Monday. The Senate is expected to approve the legislation before the end of session. PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of 4,700 chemicals that are found in cookware, firefighting foam and food packaging. The US Center for Disease Control has

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UConn to Require Vaccinations for Returning Students, Faculty and Staff an ‘Ongoing Discussion’

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Students at the University of Connecticut will be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to study in the fall. The university Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Friday to adopt a policy that Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, the interim president of the University of Connecticut and CEO of UConn Health, presented during the meeting.  Agwunobi said that students should get vaccinated before coming back to campus. If they cannot get vaccinated prior to the return, he said, the university will make vaccines available for them when they arrive on campus. He explained that changes in weather, variants and the

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Short Notice Leaves Laid-Off Contact Tracers Scrambling, Up in Arms

At least 45 employees hired through a private firm to work as part of the state’s coronavirus response efforts were let go with less than 48 hours notice after the state determined that the employees’ positions were no longer necessary.  The workers were contracted by the San Diego-based healthcare corporation AMN, which the state paid over $23.7 million to provide Connecticut with a local workforce trained in contract tracing.  Maura Fitzgerald, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Health, said that 45 individuals were informed yesterday that they would be terminated effective Friday, and that they anticipate additional lay off

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As Public Option Dies, No Clear Direction on Healthcare Costs

The death of the Democrats’ public option bill has left a large question mark around what the state legislature will do to address healthcare costs before the legislative session closes in a week.  The session started out with three distinct plans: a public option, which would have allowed small businesses to purchase insurance through the state, Gov. Ned Lamont’s $50 million tax on private insurers that would have gone toward subsidies for people who buy insurance on the state exchange, Access Health, and the Republicans’ proposal of reinsurance and benchmarking, which they say would drive down costs.  In March, State

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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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Bill to Streamline Medical Coverage Waits for Vote in the House

A bill to limit health insurers from requiring “step therapy” is waiting for a vote in the House. Step therapy is a protocol establishing the order in which doctors can prescribe drugs for specific medical conditions, generally requiring patients try cheaper options before “stepping up” to more expensive treatments.  Connecticut law currently prohibits the use of step therapy for the treatment of stage four metastatic cancer, and this bill would expand that prohibition to include any behavioral health condition or a disabling, chronic, or life-threatening condition or disease.  Insurers oppose the bill, with the Connecticut Association of Health Plans testifying

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Arts Alliance, Yale School of Public Health to Host Thursday Webinar for Arts Venues

The Shoreline Arts Alliance is partnering with the Yale School of Public Health to offer a webinar for arts venues that are preparing to reopen post-COVID.  The webinar, which will take place on Thursday, May 20 at 1 p.m., will focus on the public health safety measures that venues can take to make staff and patrons feel comfortable about returning.  Recent changes in regulations have made questions about public health even more relevant. Gov. Ned Lamont is relaxing all restrictions on businesses beginning on Wednesday, with the exception of mask-wearing for non-vaccinated individuals. Last week, the CDC said that vaccinated

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Crisis Pregnancy Center Advertising Targeted by Pending Legislation in State Legislature

A bill that would ban what abortion rights advocates describe as deceptive advertising at crisis pregnancy centers is waiting for a vote on the House floor after passing the Senate 21-15 on May 5th. The legislation has faced bipartisan opposition, with Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and two other Democrats joining the Republicans to vote against the legislation. The proposal has been considered by legislators in four previous legislative sessions, most recently passing the Health Committee and House, but dying without a vote in the Senate in 2019.  Supporters of the proposal argue that “limited services pregnancy centers,” which do not

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Link Between Oversight and Patient Safety Lacking in Yale Report, as Lamont Negotiates to Avoid Strike

The ten nursing homes in Connecticut reporting the highest number of deaths from COVID-19 received no fines or citations from the Department of Public Health, according to a report issued today by Yale Law School’s Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic and the SEIU District 1199 NE union.  The report found that the 34 fines the department did issue for COVID-19 violations between March 2020 and February 2021 bore no relation to the number of deaths in any particular nursing home.  The authors of the report also found no evidence that any citations or fines were levied against an additional

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Democrats Announce Intention to Extend Executive Orders — For How Long, is the Question

House Democrats announced on Tuesday that they expected to vote to extend Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive orders beyond the current expiration date of May 20.  “The Governor, relating to COVID, whether it’s around testing, vaccination, things like that — even beyond May 20, will need some flexibility,” said State Rep. Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, in a press conference on Tuesday.  On Monday, Lamont said that Paul Mounds, his chief of staff, and Nora Dannehy, his general counsel, had reviewed executive orders still in effect to determine which would need to be extended after May 20 for public health reasons.  “There is

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As Health Information Exchange Launches, Patient Advocates Warn of ‘Subscriptions’ to Private Data

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After 15 years of false starts and $43 million dollars spent, Connecticut’s long-awaited health information exchange is finally “open for business,” state officials announced on Monday. The exchange is expected to collect and share patient data between healthcare providers across the state, which officials say will improve care, reduce redundant testing and lower healthcare costs through efficiency.  But a funding strategy that charges “subscriptions” for access to that health data has raised privacy concerns for patient advocates who warn of a lack of clarity regarding who will have access to that data. Ellen Andrews, executive director of the Connecticut Health

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Lawmakers Poised to Establish Office of Pandemic Preparedness, Buck Advice of State Health Officials

As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to wane, Connecticut lawmakers say they want to make sure the state is prepared for the next one.  Legislators are poised to pass a bill establishing a state Office of Pandemic and Public Health Preparedness, which would manage inventories for personal protective equipment, ventilators, hospital beds, and vaccine storage. The office would also help connect businesses to local providers of PPE, and work to improve the state’s medical supply chain. The Appropriations Committee budget released last week allocated $300,000 to the Office of Pandemic Preparedness for the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years.  “If we’d had

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Therapists Relate Patient Struggles Toward Normalcy as COVID Subsides

All signs point to what should be a summer of reuniting with loved ones, reentering society, and to some degree, returning to normalcy for Connecticut residents. But in a series of interviews, therapists told CT Examiner that many of their clients with clinical anxiety may not be ready to go back out into the world just yet.  “My clients with anxiety are freaking out right now,” said Chantel Herron Elliott, a licensed clinical social worker in Danbury. “I would love to say that they’re happy to go out into the world, but for a lot of them, no. I’ll be

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Mobile Clinics Organized to Vaccinate Farm Workers for COVID-19

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Connecticut farms will have the opportunity to host mobile clinics for farm workers who want to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a press release by the Department of Agriculture.   The program is being run through a partnership between the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Public Health and the Department of Labor. Joan Nichols, executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association, said she had received phone calls from farms asking if there was a way they could get their workers vaccinated on-site.  Nichols said that some of the associations’ member farms will host between 200 and 400 seasonal

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As Vaccination Rates Sag, Connecticut Opens No-Appointment Walk-in Clinics

Vaccination clinics across the state are allowing people to receive vaccinations without having an appointment, according to an announcement from Gov. Ned Lamont on Monday.  In Middlesex and New London Counties, vaccine clinics offering walk-in appointments include  The Yale New Haven Health Clinic at Mitchell College in New London Greenville Drug Store in Norwich The Yale New Haven Health Clinic at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville The Middlesex Health Shoreline Medical Center in Westbrook The Community Health Center Clinic at Wesleyan University in Middletown Cross Street AME Zion Church in Middletown  Middletown Housing Authority locations at Maplewood Terrace and Traverse Square

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Turning Attention to PFAS in Connecticut’s Drinking Water

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The State of Connecticut is making an increased effort to identify so-called “forever chemicals” that may be building up in certain water sources in the state.  PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are a group of more than 4,700 chemical compounds that have been used since the 1940s. Found in products like cookware, food packaging and firefighting foam, they are held together by a strong carbon-fluorine bond. As a result, they build up — in soil, in groundwater, and in animals that ingest them, eventually reaching human beings.  According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, PFAS exposure has

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Business Groups Write to Oppose Health Insurance Tax

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A number of business interests representing companies small and large expressed significant concern about a proposed $50 million assessment on insurance carriers, that they say will increase the cost of providing employees with health insurance.  The assessment is part of a legislative proposal that would create a “public option” for employers to buy health insurance for their employees through the Office of the State Comptroller.   According to an analysis from Oliver Wyman Actuarial Consulting, Inc. that was commissioned by UnitedHealth Group, a $50 million assessment would result in an increase of $29.73 yearly in premium rates per person.  In a

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Area Republicans Break Ranks to Support Eliminating Vaccine Exemption

Southeastern Connecticut House Republicans broke with party lines to vote in favor of a bill that would eliminate religious exemptions for vaccinations for school children.  The bill passed in the House yesterday 90-53 after a 16-hour debate that included votes on seven amendments, two of which were approved.  State Representatives Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, and Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, broke with the majority of Republican legislators in order to vote in favor of the bill.  The bill, if passed through the Senate, will require children entering a public or private school in Connecticut to be vaccinated for

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Doctors Warn On Expanded Medical Exemption for Childhood Vaccinations

A bill removing the religious exemption for vaccinations for Connecticut schoolchildren will also increase the number of permissible medical exemptions — a change that some physicians believe has the potential to do more harm than good.  The legislation, if passed, would require children entering a public or private school in Connecticut to be vaccinated for a number of diseases including diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, poliomyelitis, measles, mumps, rubella and haemophilus influenzae type B. Children who are already enrolled in school will be allowed to keep their religious exemptions.  State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said during a debate on the floor of

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Rollout on Track, Despite Pause for Johnson & Johnson Doses

Connecticut state leaders told vaccine providers to pause use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.  The CDC announcement came as a result of six people in the United States who developed cerebral blood clots in the two weeks after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. More than 6.8 million Americans have received the Johnson & Johnson shot. About 100,000 people in Connecticut have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and none have reported serious side effects, according to the state Department of Public Health. The state has leveraged its

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Debating the Impact of Eliminating Connecticut’s Religious Exemption to Vaccination

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On Wednesday, the legislature’s public health committee voted to send two identical bills, one to the House and one to the Senate, that would eliminate the ability of parents to claim a religious exemption to vaccinating their children. If the legislation becomes law, both public and private school students in Connecticut who are not vaccinated by the fall of 2022 will not be allowed to enroll or re-enroll in kindergarten through sixth grade classes. Jody Terranova, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and president-elect and immunization representative for the Connecticut chapter of the American

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Connecticut Opens COVID Vaccinations to Ages 16+ on Thursday

All adults 16+ will be eligible to register for their COVID-19 vaccine starting on Thursday, April 1. The Governor’s Office announced that appointments will become available Thursday morning, and residents can register for the vaccine by visiting ct.gov/covidvaccine and entering their zip code.  The site will show the nearest vaccine providers and instructions on how to register, whether through the Vaccine Administration Management System, an appointment scheduling system provided by the Center for Disease Control, or other vaccine signup systems.  All Connecticut adults can register in VAMS now, and will receive a confirmation email from the state once eligible, which

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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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Legislature Debates Civil Liability for Cases of COVID-19

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Connecticut is weighing joining 36 other states that have passed laws protecting businesses, nursing homes and universities from lawsuits for alleged violations of state-ordered COVID-19 protocols.  State Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, ranking member of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, is sponsoring a bill that would shield businesses, nonprofits and other entities from lawsuits if they have “substantially complied” with the COVID-19 safety guidelines issued by the Department of Public Health and the Office of the Governor.  “What this bill would do is say, right at the outset of filing the suit, you can’t prevail because we followed the governor’s guidance,” Fishbein

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Legislation Aims to Improve Outcomes for Black Mothers, Consider Doula Care

Tamika McPhail thought it was just the hospital. While pregnant with her second child, she noticed that the baby wasn’t moving. Soon, it was nearly too late, and her obstetrician couldn’t find a heartbeat. After an induction and emergency C-section, she said her son had to be “brought back to life.”  She’s had four children since, trying out three different hospitals and four different obstetricians, but she said each subsequent birth came with serious complications for her or her child.  “I’ve come to see that it’s not just the hospital, and it’s not just the doctor,” McPhail said. “It’s a

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State Warns of Scams Targeting Vaccination Efforts

COVID-19 vaccination scams targeting Connecticut residents are on the rise, Gov. Ned Lamont and Attorney General William Tong said. State leaders are sounding the alarm to raise awareness of the vaccine distribution system, and ensure that residents are not taken advantage of.  The Office of the Attorney General and the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection released information about two new scams, one in which people posing as vaccine manufacturers offer rewards for filling out a vaccine survey, but ask for credit card information to ship a reward. In another scam, residents received a fake letter from the governor’s office directing

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Lamont Announces a Faster Timeline for COVID Vaccinations

All Connecticut residents aged 16 and older will be eligible to schedule COVID-19 vaccinations starting April 5 — one month earlier than previously scheduled, Gov. Ned Lamont announced at a press conference on Monday. Residents 45 and older will now be able to register beginning Friday — the same day as Connecticut’s reopening of restaurants and other establishments to 100 percent capacity.  “There’ll be a bit of a rush, so if you’re relatively healthy, you maybe don’t have to go to work every day, you can telecommute, perhaps you think you had some sort of a mild infection in the

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Legislators Debate Three Proposals for Healthcare

Legislators are debating a trifecta of bills addressing one of the biggest concerns Connecticut residents are facing this year — the cost of healthcare.   The first bill — the Democrats’ public option plan — would allow individuals and small businesses to purchase insurance on the state exchange.  The second bill, proposed by Gov. Ned Lamont, would tax health insurers and use the money to create subsidies for people who buy insurance on the state exchange, Access Health.  On Thursday, legislators held a public hearing on a third alternative: a Republican-backed combination of reinsurance and benchmarking that lawmakers say would better

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Lawmakers Open Hearing on Legislation to Ease Workers’ Comp Claims for COVID-19

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In July of last year, Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order establishing a presumption of eligibility for workers’ compensation claims related to COVID-19. This meant that employees required to work in person during the height of the pandemic, from March 10 to May 20, who contracted COVID-19 would be presumed to have contracted the virus at work, making them eligible for workers’ compensation.  Employers could still contest a claim, but the executive order ostensibly helped essential workers access deserved benefits in the midst of a pandemic, when substantiating a claim of an infection in the workplace would be especially

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