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State News Stories

Connecticut governor says state needs more vaccine from feds

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said the state needs more vaccines from the federal government to meet the great demand. So far, nearly 260,000 Connecticut residents have so far received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, including 47,000 people 75 years and older. Some Connecticut teachers say they've had to cancel their appointments after being notified last week they could sign up to be vaccinated. Josh Geballe, Lamont's chief operating officer, said a "handful" of districts accidentally uploaded their entire rosters for employees, rather than just the school nurses, which the state instructed, for COVID-19 vaccinations.


UConn reports athletic deficit increase to $43.5 million

STORRS, Conn. (AP) - The deficit in the University of Connecticut's athletic department rose by $1.2 million during the last fiscal year to $43.5 million, according to the school's annual report to the NCAA. UConn released the fiscal report on Wednesday. It said the gap, which last year was among the highest in Division I, was covered by $37 million in direct support from the university and $6.5 million in student fees. Revenue from men's basketball fell from $6 million to $5 million; women's basketball revenue dropped from $4.5 million to $4 million and football revenue fell from $3.3 million to $2.3 million.


Feds no longer seeking death penalty in triple killing

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Federal prosecutors are no longer seeking the death penalty for a Connecticut drug dealer convicted for his role in the killings of three people who were beaten to death in a turf dispute over crack cocaine sales. The U.S. attorney's office notified Azibo Aquart's lawyer about its decision late last month, according to a court document filed Tuesday. A spokesperson for federal prosecutors had no immediate comment Thursday. Aquart was sentenced to death in 2012 for the 2005 killings in Bridgeport, but the sentence was overturned by a federal appeals court. He now faces up to life in prison for the slayings. Aquart's lawyer had no comment.


Lawmakers plan to push ahead with religious exemption bill

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Leaders of the Connecticut General Assembly's Public Health Committee on Wednesday pledged to move forward this session with legislation that would end a religious exemption from vaccinations for schoolchildren. The plan comes despite being called on by thousands of residents to postpone plans given how the pandemic has moved this year's legislative session mostly online. While the committee's top lawmakers postponed a vote to officially consider the subject for an eventual bill, they said legislation similar to what was proposed last year will likely be resurrected in the coming days. Legislators received a citizen petition with more than 10,000 signatures.


Lamont to co-chair national task force on pandemic response

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee have been appointed to co-chair a national task force designed to coordinate the response of states to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Lamont, a Democrat, and Lee, a Republican, will lead the new National Governor Association's Pandemic and Disaster Response Task Force, which is charged with advocating for the states on issues such as the distribution of vaccines, testing supplies and personal protective equipment. The task force also will work with federal officials on other natural disasters and issues involving the National Guard, cybersecurity and health care.


Connecticut adopts tiered approach for virus vaccinations

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Without nearly enough COVID-19 vaccines arriving for everyone eligible to receive them, Connecticut will prioritize its oldest residents for the first shots, Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday.

Under a new tiered approach, the governor said people over 75 can schedule vaccinations now, to be followed likely in early February by people between the ages of 65 and 74. It will likely be late February or early March before they can be scheduled for frontline essential workers and people with medical conditions that increase their risk of severe illness from the virus.

Some 1.4 million people in Connecticut are technically eligible for vaccines under Phase 1B but Lamont, a Democrat, said the state is scheduled to receive only about 45,000 doses of the vaccine weekly.

The Department of Public Health on Tuesday notified school districts, local health departments, and vaccine providers that vaccination appointments for Friday or later should be canceled unless they are for people over the age of 75 or who were eligible to receive the vaccine as part of Phase 1A.

“In order to vaccinate our 75 plus residents as quickly as possible so that we can move on to the other groups within 1b, it is critical that we focus on getting shots in the arms of those elderly and most vulnerable residents,” acting Public Health Commissioner Dr. Deidre Gifford said.


New Haven students return for in-person learning

Students on Tuesday attended school in-person for the first time since March in New Haven, Connecticut, a district that until now has resisted calls to bring children back as it worked to address safety concerns.

While many other districts around the state reopened classrooms, as encouraged by Gov. Ned Lamont, New Haven schools continued to stick with distance learning through the fall. The 21,000-student district delayed a November reopening because of the rising numbers of coronavirus infections.

For now, only students in pre-kindergarten through the fifth grade have the option of going back to classrooms under the district’s hybrid learning plan. Parents who have seen children deal with the challenges of remote learning were happy to see them attend in person.

“I think we are looking forward to them getting back to it (Tuesday), being with their classmates and their teachers,” Laura McGowan, a parent, told WFSB-TV. She said she was optimistic as her two children began in-person learning.

To prepare for the reopening, the district improved ventilation systems, secured personal protective equipment and ensured nurses were available in each building, officials said.

“New Haven Public Schools has taken great caution in setting up safeguards and protocols to ensure the safety of our staffs and students,” Superintendent Iline Tracey said.

New Haven Federation of Teachers President David Cicarella said the union does not agree with the decision to return to classrooms. He said teachers are eager to be with their students but also are in line to receive vaccinations within weeks.

“We need to get back, but with the vaccinations just around the corner, it just doesn’t make sense to send everyone back now, so the teachers are overwhelmingly (saying) ‘Can’t we just wait for the vaccination?’ We know they’re coming, it’s not going to be that much longer,” Cicarella said.


Party at Bridgeport employee's home under investigation

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — Police in Trumbull are investigating a large gathering held over the weekend at the home of a Bridgeport city employee, authorities said.

Police responding to a report of a large number of cars in the area had the homeowner, Daniel Pizarro, break up the party to address the parking issue and to comply with pandemic-related restrictions on social gatherings, Trumbull Police Lt. Brian Weir told Hearst Connecticut Media. Weir said police are still looking into the matter “with anticipated further police action.”

Pizarro, who works for Bridgeport’s housing code office, said he was celebrating his 48th birthday with over 300 guests when police showed up around 1 a.m. Sunday.

An executive order from Gov. Ned Lamont limits private indoor and outdoor gatherings to 10 people. Private hosts could be charged $500, with guests penalized $250.

Rowena White, a spokesperson for Bridgeport’s mayor, said a couple of city employees attended the gathering and would need to quarantine and test negative for the virus before returning to work.

Pizarro said he thought Lamont’s orders applied only to “restaurants and stuff like that, not residential.” He said he did not have concerns about virus exposure at the party.

Pizarro was hired by Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim in 2016 and works as a project coordinator with the city’s housing code office.


Vaccine mix-up leads some teachers to sign up early

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Hundreds of Connecticut schoolteachers were able to sign up for coronavirus vaccine appointments before they were actually eligible, due to confusion over the rollout rules. State Health Department spokesperson Maura Fitzgerald tells The Hartford Courant in a story published Monday that the issue arose after some school districts mistakenly put their entire staff rosters into a registration system when the state actually had asked only for lists of school nurses. The nurses were eligible for vaccination as health care providers. Teachers in those districts got automated emails confirming their registrations. That enabled them to make appointments to get the shots, and an unknown number did so.


Small budget surplus projected for Connecticut despite COVID

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Connecticut appears on track to end the current fiscal year with a surplus, according to new figures released Friday.

State officials previously predicted the state budget could be about $2 billion in deficit, because of the business shutdowns earlier in 2020 to help stop the spread of infections, coupled with the subsequent job losses.

“Portions of our state’s economy have continued to perform thanks to the resilience of our residents, robust federal support, and smart and strategic state investment,” Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont said in a statement.

The revenue projections reached by the governor’s and the General Assembly’s budget offices project the fiscal year, which ends June 30, will have a $70 million surplus. Democratic House leaders noted the data indicates that the revenue generated by sales and income taxes are growing at 5%, something they said hasn’t happened in more than a decade.

“This is incredibly positive news,” said House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford. “Mid-year consensus revenues are certainly not the final numbers upon which we craft a budget, but this is an important snapshot of where the state is heading.”

He said he expects the numbers to improve further after the full impact federal stimulus legislation is felt in Connecticut.

Republican leaders who represent the minority party in the General Assembly agreed the latest figures are good news, but urged caution as they craft a new two-year state budget in the coming months.

“Small businesses are shutting their doors, unemployment remains high and we still have billion-dollar out-year deficits,” said Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, in a statement. “We must resist the urge to raise taxes and continue to reduce the cost and size of government. We must make Connecticut more affordable for middle class families.”

There have been nearly 1,900 new confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut since Thursday, while the number of COVID-associated deaths increased by 41 to 6,594. Hospitalizations decreased by 20 patients, to a total of 6,594. As of Thursday, the seven-day average occupancy rate for adult intensive care unit beds was nearly 61%.


Attorney: State health employee blew whistle before firing

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A state Department of Health employee says he was fired after questioning the department’s authority to fine a bar that allegedly flouted state rules about crowd size amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The New Haven Register reports that Av Harris, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Public Health, was abruptly terminated on New Year’s Eve.

His attorney, Irene Bassock, wrote in a letter to a DPH attorney, that Harris raised concerns about interfering with a pending criminal investigation and the health department’s legal authority to levy the $10,000 fine against a Bridgeport sports bar.

“The facts demonstrate that his abrupt termination is illegal retaliation for speaking up about potentially unlawful activity,” Bassock told the newspaper. “Instead of terminating him, Mr. Harris should be commended for how ethically he performed his job.”

A request for comment was sent to Gov. Ned Lamont’s office seeking comment.


Police: Gunshot victim crashes into New Haven building, dies

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - Police say a shooting victim crashed a car into a building in New Haven after he had been mortally wounded. The New Haven Police Department says officers responding to gunshots at around 8:30 p.m. Saturday found a car crashed into a commercial building on Grand Avenue. The driver of the car was suffering from gunshot wounds and was taken by ambulance to Yale New Haven Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. His name was not immediately released. Police believe the victim drove across an intersection and struck the building after he had been shot. No arrests have been made.


Connecticut man charged with bilking vodka company investors

MADISON, Conn. (AP) - A Connecticut man has been charged with defrauding investors in an alcoholic beverage company and diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars for his personal use. Federal authorities say 56-year-old Brian Hughes, of Madison, was arrested Thursday. Hughes is charged with wire fraud, illegal monetary transactions, money laundering, and tax evasion. Hughes pleaded not guilty by video conference. Prosecutors say Hughes founded Handcrafted Brands LLC in 2015 for the purpose of raising money to buy Salute American Vodka. They say he diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars for his personal use.


A quiet day at Connecticut's Capitol despite protest fears

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Hundreds of National Guard members and police officers guarded the state Capitol and a handful of counter protesters waited behind steel barriers for a rally that never materialized on Sunday. Brian Foley, executive assistant of the Department of Emergency Services, told reporters that high visibility security features may have helped discourage violent protests that had been feared. Connecticut State Police sent out messages last week saying they were ready for any planned protests after the FBI warned there could be demonstrations at each of the country's state capitols.


Vaccine appointments for 75 years and older, winter sports return

Roughly 277,000 Connecticut residents who are 75 years and older were allowed Thursday to begin making appointments online or via telephone for their COVID-19 vaccinations, with plans in the works to eventually phase in people 65 and older and anyone 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions that put them of greater risk of contracting the disease.

  • Healthcare Provider: Many residents have already been or will be contacted to schedule an appointment by their healthcare provider if their provider is participating in the state’s vaccine program. Not all providers are administering the vaccine.  A list of participating providers is available at ct.gov/covidvaccineResidents are urged not to contact their physician or healthcare provider directly for COVID vaccine appointments.

 

  • Online: A form can be accessed online at ct.gov/covidvaccine that allows individuals to schedule an appointment through the web-based Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS).

 

  • Telephone: Those without internet access can call Connecticut’s COVID Vaccine Appointment Assistance Line at 877-918-2224. The phone system was created in partnership with the Department of Public Health and United Way of Connecticut and is specifically targeted to provide support for eligible vaccine recipients who have limited technology access, or who have language, disability, or other barriers that could prevent them from using existing self-scheduling options successfully. The line will take calls on Mondays through Fridays from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and will offer a call-back option when all contact specialists are busy serving other callers. The team will aim to return calls as soon as possible, with the goal of same-day response.

With reports of high call volume and busy website traffic on the first day of appointments on the state’s platform, officials repeatedly urged people to remain patient, especially in the coming weeks and months as the newly expanded Phase 1B — the second phase of Connecticut’s vaccination program — rolls out in different stages. The entire group is estimated to include more than 1.3 million people and it’s unclear when people aside from those in the 75 years and older group can begin making appointments.

“This allocation strategy is limited by the number of doses that we have available,” said Dr. Deidre Gifford, acting director of the Connecticut Department of Public Health, noting the administration is hoping to get more shipments of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine as they ramp up production, as well as vaccine from other companies as they become approved.

“But we can only give out as many vaccines as we have doses,” she said.

If the state continues to receive vaccine shipments at the pace of roughly 50,000 doses a week, it would take until May to finish vaccinating Phase 1B. The rest of the public might not be vaccinated until the fall. The state is expecting a larger shipment next week, however officials said they’re uncertain if they should expect such amounts to continue.

Vaccinations of the first people in Phase 1B are scheduled to officially begin on Monday. The vaccine will be prioritized for those 75 and older. As the state’s supply grows and a significant number of those 75 and older are vaccinated, Gov. Ned Lamont said other people in Phase 1B will be allowed to begin making appointments. That includes certain frontline essential workers, people who work and live in congregate settings and those with certain medical conditions.

While state officials still need to prioritize others in Phase 1B, there are plans to focus especially on communities hit hard by the pandemic, including racial minorities.

In preparation for larger vaccine shipments, the state on Monday is also opening its first appointment-only mass vaccination site at Rentchler Field in East Hartford. COVID-19 testing and food donations will also be available.

So far, more than 160,000 people in Connecticut have received the vaccine during phase 1A, which began Dec. 14 and includes mostly healthcare personnel, residents and staff of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and medical first responders.

Winter sports that have been on hold for Connecticut high schools because of the coronavirus pandemic can soon began their seasons, with practices allowed next week and competitions on or after Feb. 8, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference said Thursday.

The plan approved by the Board of Control for the conference that oversees high schools sports in the state had been proposed weeks earlier when the winter season was postponed.

The sports that are sanctioned for the winter are boys and girls basketball, ice hockey, gymnastics and boys swimming.

The winter sports of wrestling, competitive dance and competitive cheer will be limited to small group conditioning and non-contact activities because they are considered by the Connecticut Department of Public Health as high-risk activities. Boys and girls indoor track teams will be limited to practice, with meets ruled out until March.

Like the fall sports season, the winter season will be shortened, with no state tournaments. A “tournament experience” will be allowed at local levels in late March. Practices had been scheduled to begin in November, with games starting on Dec. 7.


McDonald reconfirmed as justice in rescheduled House session

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut lawmakers reconfirmed State Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald Thursday to another eight-year term. The vote came two years after he lost a politically charged battle to become the high court's chief justice. Republicans had accused the former Democratic state senator of being an "activist jurist," a charge he denied. The House of Representatives approved McDonald's latest nomination on a bipartisan vote of 104 to 37. Ten members were absent. Three Democrats joined 34 Republicans in opposing the former Democratic state senator's nomination. Lawmakers had originally planned to vote on Inauguration Day but rescheduled amid concerns about protests.


Woman charged with shooting her 2 children pleads not guilty

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) - A Connecticut woman accused of killing her 15-year-old daughter and critically wounding her 7-year-old son in a shooting in their home in November has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder charges. Naomi Bell entered the pleas during a brief videoconference hearing Thursday at New Britain Superior Court. Her public defender declined to comment after the hearing. Police allege Bell shot her two children at her Plymouth home on Nov. 13. Bell's husband told police that she was hospitalized twice for depression and psychotic episodes since the coronavirus pandemic started, and he was worried she wasn't taking her medicine.


Connecticut governor recuperating after hip surgery

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont was recuperating at home Wednesday following hip replacement surgery, according to his communications director. Max Reiss said in a statement that the 67-year-old Democrat had undergone the medical procedure at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Stamford. Reiss said the surgery was "previously scheduled." Reiss said the governor was "feeling well" and will undergo physical therapy to aid in his recuperation. Lamont is expected to make a speedy recovery.


Unexpected win has UConn fans downing hot sauce for charity

STORRS, Conn. (AP) - A viral video on Twitter has UConn fans downing hot sauces to celebrate their team's wins. The hot sauce challenge began last week when Bryan Jackson, a fan from Boston, vowed to eat a spoonful of hot sauce if the Huskies could overcome an 18-point deficit to Marquette. They did. He did. And other fans joined in. The Husky Ticket Project, a charity that raises money to send underprivileged kids to UConn basketball and football games, got involved and asked fans to donate money as part of the challenge. More than $10,000 had been donated by Wednesday afternoon.


Connecticut GOP chair resigns abruptly, reason unclear

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut Republican Party Chair J.R. Romano has resigned abruptly for reasons he hasn't made clear. Romano announced his departure in an email to fellow GOP members Tuesday, saying it was the best decision for the party to move forward. Romano left six months before the end of his third, two-year term. He said Wednesday it was time for someone new to lead the state GOP. Romano faced calls to resign from some Republicans last summer for not saying anything publicly for months about domestic violence allegations against a Republican congressional candidate before the August primary.


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