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State News Stories

State lawmakers to hold virtual hearing on police reforms

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — State lawmakers have scheduled a “virtual listening session” on Friday so the public can learn more about a police accountability bill that’s expected to be taken up for a vote in a special session later this month.

The General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee’s session will begin at 10 a.m. and end no later than 10 p.m. It will be available live or on-demand on Connecticut Network TV, accessible on cable or on www.CT-N.com. A traditional, in-person public hearing is not being held because of the coronavirus pandemic.

To testify virtually before the committee, members of the public can register online.  Registration will close at 6 p.m. on Thursday. People can also leave a message at 860-240-5255 requesting to virtually testify. The order of speakers will be selected at random and will be available online.  Chosen speakers will have three minutes.

Written testimony can be sent by email to JUDtestimony@cga.ct.gov. Those who made submissions are asked to include their name and town in the email.

A wide-ranging, bipartisan police accountability bill, proposed in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and other police-involved killings, calls for a new inspector general to investigate police use-of-force cases and would require all Connecticut police officers to have periodic mental health screenings.


Black bear home invasions on the rise in Connecticut

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut officials say they are receiving “unprecedented numbers” of black bear complaints and that the state is on track to have three times as many cases of bears entering homes compared to the last two years.

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said Tuesday that there were 17 reports of a black bear entering a home in June alone, a total equal to all reported cases in 2019.

The local bear population has been steadily increasing for years, thanks to the lack of natural predators and a bear hunt.

The agency recommended the implementation of municipal ordinances prohibiting feeding wild animals to prevent inviting them into residential areas.

“Black bears should never be fed — either intentionally or unintentionally,” DEEP Wildlife Division Director Jenny Dickson said in a release. “Bears that are attracted to homes by easily-accessible foods lose their fear of humans. Such bears spend more time in neighborhoods and near people, increasing risks to public safety, the likelihood of property damage, and the possibility that the bears may be hit and killed by vehicles.”


Casinos report strong revenues after reopening from COVID-19

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s two tribal casinos on Wednesday reported strong slot revenues for June, the first month they’ve been partly open since closing for nearly three months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s unclear, however, whether it will be the start of a trend considering competitors to Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun have begun to reopen and cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in other parts of the country.

“All things considered, it was a solid month,” said Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns and operates Foxwoods. However, he said, “we’ve cautioned ourselves internally that what happened in June, don’t expect that for July because the demand is probably going to stay the same, and now you have more capacity with Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania opening up. And at some point, New York is going to open up.”

Foxwoods reported generating $33.6 million in slot machine revenue for June 2020, a figure that was down 4.9% compared to $35.3 million in June of 2019 where the facility was completely open. As part of a revenue-sharing agreement, the state received $8.4 million. In June of 2019, the state received $9 million.

Foxwoods also announced that 2,000 of its roughly 5,000 furloughed workers have returned to work.

Mohegan Sun, meanwhile, reported generating $45.5 million in slot machine revenue for June, with $11.3 million of that going to the state of Connecticut. About 3,000 of roughly 5,000 workers have returned to work.

Both casinos, located about 7 miles apart in southeastern Connecticut on sovereign tribal land, opened on June 1 despite opposition from Gov. Ned Lamont, who had the state’s Department of Transportation erect electronic signs near the entrances on state highways, warning visitors of the potential dangers of COVID-19 in large group settings. Neither casino has yet to report any infections.

Lamont, a Democrat, recently announced the state was holding off on its third phase of reopening, which included larger indoor events and possibly bars, because of the large number of coronavirus cases in other parts of the U.S.

Jeff Hamilton, Mohegan Sun’s president and general manager, credited the wide-ranging steps that have been taken to keep both patrons and staff safe, from installing acrylic dividers between table game patrons and dealers to requiring that everyone wear masks, for attracting patrons to the casino, as well as the fact New London County has one of the state’s lowest infection rates.

“Just because you’re open, if people don’t feel safe, they’re not going to come,” he said. “What we’ve seen from our customer base is safety has now become the most important thing,” compared to things like entertainment options and amenities.

“People want to make sure that they are going to a clean environment,” he said.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear when both sprawling resorts will fully reopen to visitors. For example, buses with out-of-state gamblers are still not being welcomed at either facility, various sit-down restaurants, buffets, nightclubs and poker rooms remain shuttered and hotel capacity is limited. Mohegan Sun has yet to reopen its 10,000-seat arena and Foxwoods hasn’t restarted bingo games.

As of Wednesday, there were more than 47,600 cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut, an increase of 106 since Tuesday. There have been 4,380 COVID-associated deaths, which marks an increase of eight since Tuesday. Hospitalizations climbed by one patient, for a total of 67. The latest figures can include data that is several days old.

Lamont has asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to continue providing federal reimbursement for the Connecticut National Guard’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic through Dec. 31. The agreement between the state and federal government, which provides federal funds to cover costs associated with activating the Guard to help with COVID-related emergency operations, is currently set to expire on Aug. 7.

Lamont said the state is still relying on help from the Guard.

“The Connecticut National Guard has demonstrated that its ability to respond is constant, and their unwavering response is a big reason why we have been able to significantly bend the curve from the initial outbreak,” Lamont said.

Since March 20, more than 1,000 Connecticut National Guardsmen and women, and members of the State Militia, have helped to build mobile field hospitals, deliver and distribute millions of pieces of personal protective equipment, inspect and support nursing homes, assemble testing kits and collect samples.


New York couple arrested in attack on Conn. hotel clerk

STONINGTON, Conn. (AP) — A New York couple is charged with assaulting a 59-year-old hotel worker in Connecticut, in what police say was a hate crime.

Philip Sarner and Emily Orbay, who have no permanent addresses but are known to be primarily from Nassau County, New York, were taken into custody Monday in Brooklyn, New York, and returned to Connecticut.

Sarner and Orbay are accused of attacking Crystal Caldwell, a 59-year-old Black desk clerk at a Quality Inn in Mystic, on June 26 after complaining about a lack of hot water in their room.

The couple, who are white, called Caldwell a monkey and punched her in the face, according to arrest warrants.

After being separated by other hotel employees, Caldwell told police she went to put ice on her injured face and was attacked again, knocked to the ground and kicked in the ribs.

All three people were taken to a local hospital for treatment of injuries, where police said they were unable to stay and monitor the couple because of visitation policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sarner and Orbay later returned to the hotel, retrieved their car and left the state before they could be arrested.

Sarner is charged with second-degree assault, third-degree assault and intimidation based on bigotry and bias. Orbay is charged with third-degree assault and intimidation based on bigotry and bias. Both were released after posting bonds of $75,000 for Sarner and $50,000 for Orbay.

It is not clear if they have attorneys and they could not immediately be reached for comment.

The town has hired an independent firm to conduct a review of the police department’s handling of the incident.


Report: Black people prosecuted for felonies at higher rate

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Black criminal defendants in Connecticut are disproportionately represented among those prosecuted for felonies, according to a report from the state’s Division of Criminal Justice released Tuesday.

The analysis of the more than 300,000 records from 2019 found that 28% of cases resolved by prosecutors involved Black defendants, while 26% of defendants were Hispanic. It also showed that Black people, who make up 11% of the state’s population, were prosecuted in 34% of all resolved felonies. Hispanics, who make up 17% of Connecticut residents, were charged with 27% of the felonies prosecuted to completion last year.

White people, who make up 67% of the population, were defendants in 43% of all cases, but just 37% of those felonies, according to the report.

The analysis stems from a 2019 law that requires the state to compile a variety of data from prosecutors, including how many defendants received prison time, plea bargains or diversionary programs. The legislation, which officials said was the first of its kind in the nation, is designed to give lawmakers an idea of what decisions prosecutors are making and to ensure the process is fair.

Marc Pelka, the state’s undersecretary for criminal justice, said that more detailed racial data will come next year after the state rolls out a new case management system that will track how criminal cases flow through the entire criminal justice system, including why decisions were made.

“But we thought it was very important at the outset just to reflect where the composition varies within our state population, within the cases disposed of in 2019 and where in each of the classes of felonies and misdemeanors you see disproportionality,” he said.

The 2019 data found that 62% of all violent crimes were charged in three of the state’s 13 Judicial Districts: Hartford, New Haven, and Fairfield, which also are the districts with the highest minority populations.

The report is the first to look at how all cases are prosecuted in Connecticut and at what point in the process they are resolved. It found that seven of every 10 cases that came into the state’s criminal justice system were misdemeanors and that 95% of all cases were resolved in the state’s Geographical Area courts, where cases first appear, before being transferred to the higher-level Judicial District courts. It also found that the largest number of cases, more than 56,000, were resolved with prosecutors filing a nolle and dropping charges, while there were just over 45,700 convictions and just under 22,000 cases dismissed.

The report found that 18% of case dispositions involved a referral to a state diversion program such as alcohol education or the special form of probation known as accelerated rehabilitation, which results in the eventual dismissal of charges.

The report does not get into the reasons behind the numbers.

Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald, the chairman of the Criminal Justice Commission, noted that it has taken a dozen years to develop and approve a case management system and called the report a good start.

“I know a lot of this information will be very useful to policy makers,” he said. “We have a different role. Frankly now we have a benchmark that you have helped us establish so that when we do talk to you a year from now, we will have a much better idea of how we are going to use this information strategically in the appointment of state’s attorneys and the chief states attorney.”


Lawmakers returning to vote on absentee ballot, police bills

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) —  Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday the state’s COVID-19 infection rate is currently low enough for the General Assembly to return for a special legislative session to consider a limited number of bills, including one allowing more people to vote by absentee in the November general election.

The Democrat, who spoke with Democratic and Republican legislative leaders earlier in the day, said the tentative plan is to consider four bills. Besides expanding the eligibility for using absentee ballots, just for the upcoming election because of the pandemic, Lamont said they agreed to take up legislation concerning police accountability, insurance coverage for tele-health services and a cap on the price of insulin.

“Assuming we can get agreement in principle on what those bills are going to be, I’m going to issue the call for the special session on Friday,” Lamont said. Lawmakers, who acknowledged the details of the bills are still being worked out, are expected to vote sometime before the end of January.

Lamont said it will be up to the House of Representatives and Senate to decide how they plan to hold hearings — tentatively virtually — and votes in a safe manner, given the continuing pandemic. The two bodies are not expected to return to the Capitol on the same day in order to reduce the number of people in attendance.

A spokesman for the House Democrats said the Judiciary Committee may hold an online informational hearing Friday on the police accountability bill while other hearings are planned tentatively for early next week. A vote by the House could potentially be held later in the week, with the Senate to follow. Legislative leaders have been considering whether to have House members vote remotely in their offices while senators might vote in small groups in the Senate chamber.

“Both the House and Senate will be taking a number of measures to protect legislators and staff during debates and votes in the special session,” legislative leaders said in a joint written statement.

Lamont already used his executive authority under the state’s public health emergency to lift restrictions on absentee ballots and allowed any eligible, registered Democrat or Republican to use them in the upcoming Aug. 11 primary. But Lamont’s authority expires in September, before the general election, so he asked lawmakers to pass legislation lifting the restrictions in November as well.

“We don’t know what the COVID epidemic is going to look like, but assuming COVID is still with us, this would be a COVID-related opportunity to have absentee balloting so you can vote safely,” Lamont said.

Some Republicans, however, have raised concerns about the ballots. Senate GOP Leader Len Fasano said he has “no problem with expanding absentee voting excuses to include the COVID-19 pandemic,” but he is worried that a small percentage of ballot applications for the primary sent in the mail by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s office were undeliverable, creating the potential for fraud.

The state GOP announced this week it is launching a Ballot Integrity Alert System to let citizens report suspicious election activity, dead voters, old or inaccurate information. Merrill has said 8% of applications came back to her office, which her office contends is below the average 15% for election mailings in the U.S.

As of Tuesday, there have been more than 47,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut, an increase of 30 since Monday. That number, however, does not include results from several of the largest testing laboratories due to a network connectivity problem.

Meanwhile, the number of COVID-associated deaths in Connecticut is now 4,372, an increase of one person since Monday. Hospitalizations declined by eight, to a total of 66 patients. Lamont said the state’s infection rate continues to be less than 1%.


At NY airports, $2K fine for failure to submit tracing form

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Gov. Ned Lamont announced that Connecticut plans to join New York in requiring out-of-state air travelers in the coming days to fill out a form that certifies where they will be staying in the state and that they’ll self-quarantine. Right now, the plan is focused just on people who are arriving at Bradley International Airport from states with high COVID-infection rates.

“If we find somebody has tested positive on the flight or otherwise, it makes it easier for us to track and trace and make sure that we keep an eye on things,” he said.

Travelers from certain states landing at New York airports starting Tuesday could face a $2,000 fine for failing to fill out a form that state officials will use to track travelers and ensure they're following quarantine restrictions. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut last month issued a joint travel advisory that requires a 14-day quarantine period for travelers from a list that now includes 19 states, including Texas and Florida, where COVID-19 appears to be spreading.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or lead to death.


Coast Guard officials decline to testify on racial incidents

NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) — A planned congressional hearing on the handling of racial harassment at the Coast Guard Academy has been canceled after the commandant of the Coast Guard declined to testify.

The hearing before the House committees on Homeland Security and Oversight and Reform had been scheduled for Thursday, the committee’s House leaders said.

It was to address a report released in June by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, which found the academy failed to properly respond to allegations of harassment on campus. Of 16 allegations of race-based harassment at the academy between 2013 and 2018 identified by the inspector general, the academy failed to properly investigate or handle 11 of them, the report said.

The complaints investigated by the Inspector General’s Office included episodes in which cadets used racial epithets, posed with a Confederate flag and and laughed at a blackface video in a common area.

“At a time when people across this country are coming together to confront systemic racism, it is deeply disappointing that the Coast Guard’s Commandant, Admiral Karl Schultz, has rejected our invitation to testify publicly on race-based harassment at the Coast Guard Academy,” the chairs of the House Committee on Homeland Security and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform said in a written statement.

In a letter to the committee indicating that Schultz and other Coast Guard officials would not testify, Rear Adm. Jon Hickey, the Coast Guard’s director of governmental and public affairs, wrote that the White House requires federal officials to testify in person.

“In light of these requirements and the committee’s notice that this hearing will be held via Cisco Webex, the Coast Guard will not be able to participate in this hearing in this format,” he wrote.

The Coast Guard said in a statement that it welcomes the invitation to testify “at a time and venue that aligns with established Executive branch and committee procedures regarding hearing notice, quorum, and question-and-answer period.”

Democratic Reps. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, and Carolyn Maloney of New York, chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform called the excuse baseless.

“Under the Constitution, Congress — not the Executive Branch — determines how to hold congressional proceedings,” they wrote.

But the ranking Republicans on the committee disputed that the hearing had ever been formally scheduled, and accused Maloney and Thompson of grandstanding.

“Every Chairman in every Congress since our founding has had to work with the administration to find a mutually acceptable way to accommodate a witness’ schedule and restrictions on hearing formats,” wrote Mike Rogers of Alabama, the Homeland Security Committee ranking member and James Comer, of Kentucky, the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee. “We are at a loss to understand why you failed to even attempt to work with the Coast Guard especially considering the significance of the proposed hearing’s subject matter.”

The June report found that harassing behaviors persist at the academy and that cadets are under-reporting instances of harassment in part because of “concerns about negative consequences for reporting allegations.”

The review began in June 2018 after several cadets raised concerns about racist jokes, disparities in discipline and the administration’s handling of what some saw as racial hostility.

The Coast Guard Academy said it has agreed to implement changes including mandatory training for academy personnel and cadets involved in instances of harassment or hate, mandatory training to cadets on how to recognize harassing behavior, and investigating and documenting any harassment involving race or ethnicity.


Epidemiologist: Safe practices can blunt COVID resurgence

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut’s chief epidemiologist said Monday he expects there will eventually be a resurgence of COVID-19 in the state, but the severity will depend upon how much people continue to practice social distancing measures, such as wearing masks and avoiding large groups of people indoors.

Dr. Matthew Cartter, appearing at Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s news briefing, said less than 5% of Connecticut’s population of more than 3.5 million people have so far contracted COVID-19. Considering the coronavirus which causes the disease “is just interested in infecting people,” he said there are still a lot of people in Connecticut who have not yet been infected who still could be.

“I think clearly our goal and the reason why social distancing is so important — and this is not the time to relax at all — is to try to blunt the resurgence when it occurs,” said Cartter, who noted that steps such as staying home when possible and wearing face masks are steps that work. “And if we continue to do that, it would, I think, go a long ways in terms of blunting resurgence.”

However, Cartter stressed that he doesn’t expect the number of cases in Connecticut “to go down to zero” before any resurgence of infections. Rather, he said he expects the state’s current pace of about 80-to-100 new daily cases will continue until they eventually start to increase.

“Whether it goes up sharply or gradually is really up to us and what we do,” Cartter said.

As of Monday, there have been more than 47,500 cases in Connecticut, including an additional 223 cases since Friday. Meanwhile, the number of deaths climbed by 23, to 4,371. Lamont noted that six of those COVID-associated deaths occurred over the weekend while the remaining 17 were previous deaths that had been reported to the state. Lamont said Connecticut’s infection rate is still less than 1%.


Connecticut mayor sues Delta Airlines over dog bite

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — Bridgeport’s mayor is suing Delta Airlines over a dog bite he says he suffered on a flight.

A suit filed in state Superior Court alleges Mayor Joe Ganim was sitting in his seat on a Delta flight in November 2018 when he was bitten by a dog that was accompanying a boarding passenger.

The New Haven Register reports the suit alleges Ganim suffered “serious, severe, painful and permanent injuries” to his lower left leg and that he was forced to undergo a series of rabies shots because the airline didn’t provide details on the dog’s medical history or contact information for the animal’s owner.

Delta “failed to safeguard the plaintiff from unwarranted harm by allowing a dog neither crated nor muzzled to walk freely on and within the cabin of the plane,” according to the suit.

The suit seeks unspecified damages.

Delta didn’t respond to requests for comment by the newspaper.

In March 2018, Delta issued rules requiring passengers to provide proof of animal training and the animal’s immunization records before allowing them to board a plane with a dog, according to the newspaper.


Connecticut traffic picks up, but still less than in January

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Traffic has picked up across much of Connecticut as more businesses reopen and people return to work, but there are still fewer drivers on the roads than before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Data compiled by The Associated Press show there are currently about three times the vehicle miles traveled in Connecticut compared to the state’s lowest seven-day period in April, shortly after Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont ordered the closing of non-essential businesses and other functions to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

However, travel is still well below normal, down about 34% compared with January. The increases seen in May and June have now slowed to a trickle over the last two weeks and average miles traveled have remained steady at about 62 million per day across Connecticut.

On April 12, which was Easter Sunday, travel was down nearly 87% compared with January, the largest single day drop during the pandemic.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation saw steep drops in other forms of travel during the pandemic as well. In a June 29 briefing for state legislators, DOT said there was a 95% loss in ridership on the New Haven Line, Shoreline East and Hartford Line commuter rail lines during the beginning of the pandemic. By mid June, that had improved slightly to a 90% loss in ridership.

Bus ridership initially experienced a 50% to 60% drop, depending on the community. But DOT said on June 29 that had improved to a 35% reduction from pre-pandemic average ridership.


State epidemiologist: CT 'very fortunate' with COVID decline

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut is in a “very fortunate place” with the coronavirus, the state’s epidemiologist says, as deaths have all but vanished and the state’s transmission rate is among the lowest in the country.

Dr. Matt Cartter tells the Hartford Courant he’s grateful for the progress even as the testing situation in the state remains less than ideal.

“We’re doing a lot of testing just to find very few cases,” Cartter said.

Connecticut was seeing more than 100 coronavirus deaths a day in mid- to late-April, with a peak of 204 deaths on April 20.

But now businesses, including restaurants, have reopened across the state, and the state twice this week reported a daily death count of zero COVID-19 deaths.

For the second time this week, the state on Friday reported no new deaths compared with the previous day. To date, there have been 4,348 COVID-19-associated deaths in Connecticut during the pandemic

Meanwhile, the number of positive cases increased by 78 to 47,287 as of Friday, yet hospitalizations dropped by 13 to a total of 77 patients.

“I’ve always cautioned against reading too much into one or two day’s data, but I’m pleased that as we head into the weekend our numbers remain good,” Gov. Ned Lamont said in a written statement, adding that a 0.6% positive test rate, low hospitalizations and zero new deaths show the state’s plan is working.

“We are counting on everyone to continue to wear face coverings, keep a distance, follow the guidelines, and get tested if you’re feeling any symptoms,” he said. “Together, we can buck the negative trends we are seeing around the country.”

Despite the state’s low infection rate, there were still 47 new cases and 10 COVID-19-associated deaths among nursing home residents from July 1-7, according to new information released Friday. During that period, state officials said there were 38 new infections and one death among nursing home staff, who recently have begun getting tested at many facilities. Those positive cases include staff who were asymptomatic, something state officials said is expected in these early rounds of testing.

At assisted living facilities, where many staff are also being tested for the first time, there were 22 workers who tested positive from July 1-7. The figure includes staff who were asymptomatic. Among residents, there were three positive tests and one death during the same time period.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or lead to death.


Connecticut amasses 60-70 day PPE stockpile, aiming for 90

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The state of Connecticut has so far built up a stockpile of personal protective equipment that can last about 60 or 70 days, with plans to eventually have enough for 90 days in case there is a second wave of the coronavirus, Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday.

While it’s the responsibility of nursing homes and businesses to secure their own PPE, the state has been a “backstop” for those entities during the pandemic. Lamont noted how the state “did a lot of backstopping” over the past few months and is now trying to replenish its stock of gloves, masks, gowns and other protective equipment.

“We are now building up our stockpile again,” Lamont said, during an event in Hartford. “As you know, it’s getting a little competitive out there, given what’s going on in the other states.”

Last week, Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, told The Associated Press the state has been able to secure new orders with key suppliers that were reliable during the past several months.

“We have not heard from our suppliers that the surges in other parts of the country have directly impacted our supply chain yet; however, recognizing the fact that those states will be seeking additional large quantities of PPE, it could play a factor down the road,” Geballe said in an email. “We have aggressively negotiated our needs to ensure we continue to have the product we need.”

Geballe said he’s optimistic Connecticut will have a 90-day supply of PPE in place by the end of July.

“We have commitments from suppliers who are directly working with key factories in China and we also have other suppliers who have product on the ground in the USA,” he said. “We have also leveraged our needs for certain products through a local Connecticut manufacturer.”

Also on Wednesday, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal reiterated his call for Congress to approve $20 billion in emergency funding for long-term care facilities so they can cover the cost of PPE, testing and other needs. Blumenthal has co-sponsored legislation, the Nursing Home COVID-19 Protection and Prevention Act, with fellow Senate Democrats.

“The federal government has failed our elderly population and $20 billion is a down payment on what we owe them and these facilities,” he said during a news conference in front of the Riverside Health and Rehabilitation Center in East Hartford. There continue to be complaints from some nursing home workers about a lack of sufficient PPE.

A day after Connecticut reported no new deaths associated with COVID-19, five more people have died. As of Wednesday afternoon, there have been a total of 4,343 deaths in the state. Meanwhile, the number of hospitalizations grew slightly by five, for a total of 88 patients. There have been more than 47,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, a figure that grew by 75 since Tuesday.

It had been since mid-March when Connecticut did not have any COVID-related deaths to report.


State Police union questions reasoning behind Lamont's order

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The Connecticut State Police Union is questioning whether Gov. Ned Lamont’s recent executive order banning the use of chokeholds was issued for political reasons, noting the agency had prohibited the form of restraint more than three decades ago.

In a letter to the Democratic governor, released Wednesday, Andrew Matthews, the union’s executive director, said union members find Lamont’s June 15 executive order both disappointing and confusing. Because the order only affects the state police, he said it gives the impression that troopers do not already follow the standards he is imposing.

“This leads us to believe you are trying to politicize the issue of chokeholds — already banned by the State Police — for your own political benefit,” wrote Matthews, who estimates the majority of the provisions in Lamont’s edict are currently practiced or required by the state police.

Lamont issued the order following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Max Reiss, the governor’s spokesman, defended the order, saying the governor banned chokeholds because he felt it was “the right thing to do” and that it sends the “right message” to the public.

Reiss said the order takes other steps to improve police accountability within the state police, including instituting a community liaison program, suspending the acquisition of military-style equipment through a federal program, and requiring mandatory use of body and dashboard cameras and the reporting of all uses of force.

“These are steps the governor took because he believes they represent a more trustworthy relationship between our state police and the residents they serve,” Reiss said.

Matthews questioned why Lamont’s order was only directed at the state police, when there are other law enforcement agencies in state government. He predicted it will lead to low morale and loss of confidence in state leadership.


Vote set on controversy over new middle school name

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut city council will vote in August to name Middletown’s new middle school after a family of abolitionists and leaders of the state’s free Black communities or after former President Woodrow Wilson.

During a public hearing, proponents of naming the school after the Beman family asked the Middletown Common Council to consider the importance of honoring the family’s legacy instead of honoring Wilson’s racist beliefs and policies.

While in office, Wilson resegregated federal offices, defended the Klu Klux Klan, and referred to Blacks as an “ignorant and inferior race,” the Hartford Courant reported. 

Following the national protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, Wilson’s name was removed from buildings at Princeton, where he served as university president.

“I am definitely in support of a name change to Beman Middle School,” board of education Chair Deborah Cain said Monday. “I remembered as a youth attending Woodrow Wilson Middle School and learning exactly who he was and what he stood for. I was devastated. How can a district, a city tolerate a building named after someone with such racist views?”

Jehiel Beman and his family moved to Middletown in 1830. He became a pastor at the Cross Street AME Zion church, and he fought to abolish slavery with his brother.

The board of education unanimously approved naming the school after the Beman family in October and submitted the recommendation for city approval.

Some alumni of the former Woodrow Wilson Middle School, a different school than the new one facing a vote later this summer, have called for the board not to judge Wilson by contemporary standards of racism.

Republican Town Committee Chair Bill Wilson started an online petition, which has collected nearly 1,700 signatures, to name the school after Wilson. Bill Wilson suggested Monday that the naming should go to a referendum.


Independent review ordered of COVID-19 response in nursing homes, assisted living facilities

Mathematica Policy Research, a firm headquartered in Princeton, New Jersey, has been chosen by the Department of Public Health to conduct a third-party review of the response to COVID-19 in Connecticut’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The group is expected to provide its findings by the end of September.

“Our nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19,” Lamont said in a written statement. “The tragedies that occurred deserve a thorough examination and we have an obligation to those who live in those facilities, their families, and the incredible professionals who care for residents to provide answers as to what could have been done differently to mitigate the spread of the virus.”

Lamont said the information is especially important in case there is a second wave of infections in Connecticut. Among other things, Mathematica will assess the overall impact of the pandemic in Connecticut and the long-term care facilities and compare it to other states in the region and the country. They have also been tasked with identifying significant circumstances that may have favorably or unfavorably affected the severity of the coronavirus outbreak, ranging from the timeliness of the response to staffing challenges and availability of PPE.

The review will cost approximately $450,000.


No COVID fatalities in Connecticut for 1st time in months

Data released Tuesday indicates there were no new COVID-19-associated deaths in Connecticut since Monday, marking the first time since mid-March that the state has not reported a death tied to the disease.

To date, there have been a total of 4,338 deaths associated with COVID-19 in Connecticut. The state has had more than 47,000 cases, including 57 new ones since Monday, and currently has an infection rate of about 1%.

“For the first time in months, there were zero COVID-related fatalities, zero COVID-related fatalities,” said Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, during a new conference in New Haven. He partially credited residents with continuing to wear face masks, noting “it makes a difference.”

Meanwhile, the state’s latest figures also show an uptick of 14 new hospitalizations, for a total of 83. Lamont called it “a little disturbing,” but believes it likely stems from fewer discharges. While hospitalizations were a key metric for the state earlier in the coronavirus pandemic, he said it’s less important now considering the large number of available beds in Connecticut’s hospitals.


Three more states added to tri-state travel advisory

Anyone traveling into Connecticut, New York or New Jersey from three additional states — Delaware, Kansas and Oklahoma — must now self-quarantine for 14 days to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

A total of 19 states now meet the criteria of having a new daily positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents or a 10% or higher positive rate over a seven-day rolling average.

Lamont said on Monday that he believes the quarantine has been discouraging visitors from coming to the state. He noted that the number of flight cancellations at Bradley International Airport is double what officials had anticipated.

“So there are many fewer people coming from Florida, Arizona, South Carolina, now even California than there were before,” said Lamont, adding that the state of Connecticut has been warning about the quarantine on social media in Florida, Arizona and Texas with ads that have garnered more than 1 million impressions.

“So I think people know that this region, not just Connecticut, is being very strict on the quarantining,” he said. “And it’s discouraging a lot of out-of-state state visitation from those states.”

The 19 states under the advisory include Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

If a 14-day quarantine is not possible, Lamont recently signed an executive order that allows visitors from the affected states to substitute a negative viral test for COVID-19 taken 72 hours before traveling to Connecticut.


Help wanted: Lamont turns to outside experts to fight virus

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Gov. Ned Lamont, a businessman-turned-politician, leveraged his connections when faced with the prospect of large numbers of coronavirus infections spreading from New York into Connecticut. The wealthy cable company founder tapped people from the business world, his alma mater Yale University and personal relationships to find some star power advice on how to respond to a global pandemic. Ultimately, the list included former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb and Yale epidemiologist Dr. Albert Ko, who investigated the outbreak of the Zika virus. Some of Lamont's critics have accused him of not being inclusive or transparent enough.


Head of Columbus statue knocked off amid protests

WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) - The head of a Christopher Columbus statue in Waterbury was knocked off amid protests over racial injustice and the legacy of the 15th-century navigator. The Republican-American reports that photos shot Saturday show the headless statue outside Waterbury's City Hall. The statue had been the focus of a standoff earlier in the week between its supporters and Black Lives Matter protesters. Several Columbus statues in Connecticut have been removed in recent weeks as anti-racism protesters have argued that the renowned explorer was responsible for the exploitation and genocide of Indigenous people. The Waterbury statue was donated to the city by UNICO, an Italian American organization.


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