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Lamont plan for COVID-19 nursing homes includes extra cash

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Gov. Ned Lamont on Friday publicly announced financial incentives for Connecticut nursing homes that agree to house only COVID-19 positive residents, a move aimed at preventing the system from being overwhelmed by the outbreak.

The details of the additional funds — $600 per-day for each person served, which is more than double the average daily Medicaid payment rate — come after the initial plan and a list of proposed facilities released earlier this week drew sharp criticism from a nursing home executive and family members who said it took some by surprise, creating an “uproar.”

“The discussions with the operators are going on around the clock right now, and we’re looking forward to seeing forward progress on that in the very near future,” said Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, who urged the industry to “step up” and agree to participate.

Besides the extra funds for the planned COVID-19 homes, the Democratic governor announced that all 213 nursing homes in Connecticut would be receiving a 10% increase in Medicaid funding, from April 1 through June 30, to cover expenses related to the outbreak. The three-month increase is expected to cost $35.5 million.

The administration also wants to reopen some closed facilities to increase the amount of available beds as well. The state is offering to help with start-up costs and to make the same $600-per-day payments for each COVID-19-positive nursing home resident served.

In a letter sent Thursday to residents’ families and staff at Manchester Manor and Vernon Manor and Arbors of Hop Brook in Manchester, CEO Paul Liistro criticized Lamont for releasing details of the proposal being worked out with the industry before the facilities could properly notify residents, family members and staff.

“The community uproar is deafening. Before the logic and the plans for transition could occur, the confidentiality was breached and, now, execution is impossible,” Liistro wrote in the letter Thursday.

Patricia Hastings, whose 91-year-old mother lives at Vernon Manor, said Liistro’s letter raised several red flags for her. No one has tested positive at Vernon Manor, and it was not on the list first released by Lamont.

“Why would you even want to disturb these people who are basically safe as this moment that we know of and create potential for a cross contamination?” she asked. “Now you’re going to move people who are elderly — some have Alzheimer’s, some have dementia — and you’re going to uproot them from the home they have? I don’t think they should be doing that to senior citizens. It’s disorienting.”

Lamont restricts hotel business, allows alcohol delivery

An additional 267 Connecticut residents have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 3,824.  Governor Ned Lamont says 827 patients have been hospitalized. The total statewide total number of fatalities is 112.  To date, more than 18,300 tests have been conducted in Connecticut among both state and private laboratories. 

A new executive order has been signed by the Governor allowing, under certain conditions, food establishments and liquor manufacturers to deliver liquor, and allows additional manufacturers to sell liquor for pick-up and delivery. This will provide additional opportunities for these businesses to safely deliver their products directly to customers and reduce travel outside the home. 

Another executive order has been signed by Lamont.  This one suspends the requirement that victims of domestic abuse sign an application for an order of protection under oath before a notary or attorney. Instead, the order enables them to sign an application outside the presence of a third party under the penalty of false statement. Lamont thanked the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Judicial Branch for their input and coordination on this important matter.

Governor Lamont has signed another executive order--this one prohibits all hotels, motels, inns, bed and breakfasts, and short-term residential rentals, including Airbnb, from renting to customers for leisure or vacation purposes. Instead, lodging at these facilities must be limited to health care workers, first responders, and other essential workers; the homeless, workers transporting critical materials to hospitals, residents who need a place to self-quarantine away from family or roommates and those receiving long-term care or specialized medical treatment. 

The order also extends to Connecticut residents in need of housing as a result of property damage, such as a fire and people unable to return home because of constraints on travel.

State copes with jobless surge

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut officials are struggling to handle an overwhelming number of unemployment claims stemming from the coronavirus outbreak that has grown to more than 220,000 in roughly two weeks, Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday.

The Democrat said his administration has been “throwing more and more people” at the huge task of processing claims, including hiring back retired state employees, to try and reduce a backlog, while at the same time trying to upgrade the state Department of Labor’s aging computer system to speed up process.

“This is going on around the country and it’s going on right here. And right now it’s a backlog of five or six weeks and it’s absolutely unacceptable,” Lamont said. “Give us a four or five days. We’re working on an end-around, working out with a fix that would allow us to have an expedited process.”

State Department of Labor officials said earlier Thursday that the agency has received over 200,000 unemployment claims in just over two weeks, a number it usually receives during a full year. The department has processed more than 80,000 of the new applications.

As of Wednesday, more than 100 Connecticut resident have died from COVID-19. For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

Lottery audit: 27 percent of sales went to state coffers

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s lottery games pumped $667.5 million into the state’s general fund over the two fiscal years that ended on June 30, 2017, according state auditors.

The audit, released Thursday, showed the weekly transfers from the quasi-public Connecticut Lottery Corporation totaled $337.5 million in the year ending June 30, 2016, and $330 million the following year.

The profits represented just over 27% of annual lottery sales in each of those years, according to the auditors.

The report also includes a recounting of several issues involving lottery officials, including an allegation by former lottery security director Alfred Dupuis that he was retaliated against for being a whistleblower.

Dupuis has said he brought to light problems, including the disclosure in 2015 that retailers could illegally access winning numbers of the 5 Card Cash game on computer screens and manipulate the tickets.

A subsequent criminal investigation resulted in the arrests of 15 people.

The auditors found that allegations of “gross neglect” against Dupuis, which resulted in a paid administrative leave, “could have resulted from arbitrary or retaliatory motives.”

But they also said the state’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, which has an ongoing investigation, is the appropriate venue to resolve Dupuis’ allegations.

The Lottery Corp. has denied that Dupuis was retaliated against.

Comptroller puts state deficit at $170 million and growing

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut is on track to end the current fiscal year with a $170 million deficit, a figure that likely will grow over the coming weeks and months, the state’s comptroller said Wednesday.

Kevin Lembo’s report to Gov. Ned Lamont marked his first budget and economic outlook since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state.

“The speed and scale of the pandemic’s economic disruptions are unprecedented for Connecticut,” Lembo said. “As a result, the full extent of the impact is not yet clear and may take weeks, if not months, to determine. The current year deficit could, and likely will, grow larger.”

Lembo said his office already is seeing a drop-off in withholding receipts from the large number of layoffs and furloughs due to the closure of non-essential businesses. He said his office is reducing its sales tax estimate by $30 million due to the business closures and shelter-at-home directives.

The fiscal year ends June 30. He noted the state’s $2.5 billion budget reserve account is expected to grow to approximately $2.65 million, which makes Connecticut “better positioned to meet the challenge” of the pandemic.

On-duty state trooper injured in highway crash

ROCKY HILL, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut state trooper investigating a highway accident was injured when another car crashed into his cruiser Tuesday night, state police said.

Trooper Alvin Chen, 33, was sitting in his cruiser parked in the left lane of Interstate 91 southbound in Rocky Hill when it was rear-ended at about 8:30 p.m. by a car driven by Julio Delgado, 21, of Hartford, state police said. At the time, the cruiser’s emergency lights were on and flares were activated to warn other drivers about the first accident, police said.

Both Chen and Delgado were taken to Hartford Hospital. Chen had injuries to his head, neck and right knee, while Delgado injured his neck.

Delgado was issued an infraction ticket charging him with unsafe lane change and failure to move over for a stopped emergency vehicle.

Contact information for Delgado could not be found. It wasn’t clear if he has a lawyer who could respond to the allegations.

Infant in Connecticut who had coronavirus dies

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A 7-week-old baby who died at a hospital in the Hartford area had the coronavirus, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday. The cause of death is unknown.

The unidentified child from Hartford was unresponsive when taken to the hospital recently and could not be revived. The infant tested positive during a postmortem exam for the virus that causes COVID-19, said Josh Geballe, the governor’s chief operating officer.

Dr. James Gill, the state’s chief medical examiner, said the infant had no other known medical conditions. An autopsy has been done but more tests are needed before a cause of death can be determined, he said.

“That baby was less than 7 weeks old. And just a reminder that nobody is safe with this virus,” Lamont said at a news conference after touring a temporary hospital set up at Southern Connecticut State University.

Children have made up a small fraction of coronavirus cases worldwide. A letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine by Chinese researchers last month month reported the death of a 10-month-old with COVID-19. The infant had a bowel blockage and organ failure and died four weeks after being hospitalized.

Separate research published in the journal Pediatrics traced 2,100 infected children in China and noted one death, a 14-year old. The study found less than 6% of children were seriously ill.

FBI warns of video teleconferencing hijacking, or 'Zoom-bombing'

As large numbers of people turn to video-teleconferencing platforms to stay connected during the COVID-19 crisis, reports of video hijacking, or “Zoom-bombing,” are emerging nationwide. The FBI has received multiple reports of conferences being disrupted by pornographic or hate images and threatening language.

A Massachusetts-based high school reported that while a teacher was conducting an online class, an unidentified individual yelled a profanity and then shouted the teacher’s home address in the middle of instruction. Another incident involved someone displaying swastika tattoos.

The FBI recommends exercising due diligence and caution in cybersecurity efforts. Steps to mitigate teleconference hijacking threats include not making meetings or classrooms public, and requiring a password or invitation.  The link and related information should not be shared on an unrestricted, publicly available social media post.

Screensharing options, like making it for the host only, should also be applied.

Lamont considering narrowing list of businesses considered essential

Gov. Ned Lamont said he’s considering narrowing the list of businesses considered essential to keep people home, predicting April will be a “horrible month” for coronavirus cases in Connecticut.

Lamont said more needs to be done to persuade young people that social distancing is crucial to reducing the spread of the virus, noting the infection rate is expected to peak in Connecticut over the coming weeks.

Lamont said the state is definitely at a point where people have got to stay home and he will probably have to take a look at what is an essential worker and to continue to tighten that up in terms of any possible confusion.  He is looking at more ways to keep people at home, at least for this 30-day period.

Lamont said he’s been hesitant to close the state’s large parks but worries when he sees large groups of young people congregating, such as playing basketball, and not taking social distancing seriously.

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

Tensions rise over virus inside Connecticut prisons

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A second Connecticut state prison inmate has tested positive for COVID-19, officials said Tuesday as tensions rose inside correctional facilities where prisoners increasingly are concerned about the coronavirus.

The Corrigan-Radgowski prison in Uncasville was locked down Tuesday after a 24-year-old male inmate, who began developing symptoms Thursday, was confirmed to have the virus, the Department of Correction said.

Another inmate and a correction officer at that prison had previously tested positive. Officials are still waiting for test results on nine other inmates at Corrigan-Radgowski, including the 24-year-old’s cellmate.

Meanwhile, former death row inmate Eduardo Santiago told The Associated Press that he and other inmates inside the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield are worried that staff members may be bringing the virus inside.

Santiago said officers continue to pat down and otherwise have physical contact with inmates. He said that no staff members are wearing masks and that social distancing is not being enforced.

“It’s a powder keg,” he said in a telephone interview. “Everyone is looking at every CO like they’re a walking bomb. They are yelling at the COs and at the counselors to get the hell off the block.”

The department said it has taken steps to curb the spread of the virus, including the suspension of outside visits; wellness checks of anyone entering the building; placing new inmates in 14-day isolation units; and reducing transfers.

Gov. submits request to FEMA for presidential major disaster declaration

Governor Lamont has submitted a request to FEMA for a presidential major disaster declaration resulting from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the State of Connecticut.

The governor is requesting access to all four supplemental assistance programs, including Disaster Unemployment Assistance, Crisis Counseling program, Disaster Case Management, and Disaster Legal Services.  He is also requesting Individuals and Households Program Other Needs Categories of Child Care Assistance and Funeral Assistance.

If the assistance is approved, Connecticut residents may have access to additional resources to support childcare, crisis counseling ,and other needs identified as a result of the pandemic.

Connecticut’s budget office is estimating the state will receive $1.4 billion from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund.

The figure is based on information from the Federal Funds Information for States service. A spokesman for the state’s Office of Policy and Management said the agency is analyzing how much Connecticut will receive from other parts of the federal relief package.

Democratic U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy said there’s nearly $1.2 million in federal grants to help Connecticut health centers in emergency planning and response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Connecticut state trooper arrested in Rhode Island

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (AP) — Connecticut State Police have seized the guns, badge and cruiser of a trooper following his arrest in Rhode Island for allegedly pushing and shoving his on-and-off girlfriend, authorities said Thursday.

Pawtucket police charged Trooper Marwing Pena, 30, of Sterling, Connecticut, with misdemeanor simple assault and disorderly conduct.

Pena pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on Thursday and bail was set at $1,000. A no contact order was issued and he was given permission to leave Rhode Island. No defense attorney was listed in online court records.

“Pena’s police powers have been suspended and an internal affairs investigation is underway,” state police said in a statement.

According to the police report, Pena was visiting the woman at her Pawtucket home when they got into an argument that turned physical at about 3:20 a.m. Thursday and she called police.

Pena told investigators that at no time did the argument become physical.

The woman, whose name was not made public, said they had been dating on and off for six years. They have two children together.

Pena has been a trooper since October 2018. He’s due back in court on May 20.

Connecticut to decrease COVID-19 testing, death toll at 21

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut plans to decrease testing for the new coronavirus, giving priority to the very sick, health care workers and front-line responders, Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday.

Lamont said the state will instead rely on people self-diagnosing and self-quarantining for 14 days if they have any symptoms.

He said because of the scarcity of personal protective equipment, the state is prioritizing the use of nurses for the treatment of those critically ill rather than testing.

“If you have any symptoms at all, assume it’s COVID-19 and go home and stay there for 14 days,” he said.

Lamont also urged New Yorkers and others from out of state to stay home and avoid traveling to Connecticut unless absolutely necessary. He ordered those who do come to the state to self-quarantine until they can be sure they are healthy.

Given the state’s proximity to the COVID-19 hot spot of New York City, Lamont said President Trump’s push to reopen the country by Easter is “bad, bad advice.”

“You’re never going to get this economy going again until we get this public health crisis behind us,” Lamont said. “So I think it’s wrong to say we can rush people back to work and set artificial dates, like he did.”

DMV worker tests positive for COVID-19

Labor union leaders are criticizing Commissioner Sibongile Magubane of the state Department of Motor Vehicles for ordering employees to continue to work at the agency’s headquarters in Wethersfield after workers there tested positive for the coronavirus.

John DiSette, president of Administrative and Residual Employees Union, said Magubane ordered all 400 employees of the building to report to work Tuesday morning, despite multiple confirmed cases of the new virus. The Wethersfield office has been closed to the public for more than a week.

After the union complained to the governor’s office, employees were sent home around noon Tuesday, DiSette said. But then Magubane told 50 employees they needed to return to work Wednesday while others could work from home, he said.

DiSette has called for Magubane to resign and for the building to be closed Thursday through Sunday to quell the virus. He said seven workers at the Wethersfield office have tested positive.

Magubane and the DMV issued a statement Wednesday evening that did not directly address all of DiSette’s comments. It said the 50 employees continuing to work at the Wethersfield office are providing critical services.

“Because of the nature of the COVID-19 public health crisis, and as a component of our COVID-19 contingency plan, we have adapted in response to the known health and safety risks to employees,” Magubane said in the statement. “The intent is to maximize health and safety protections while maintaining DMV operations in support of critical functions that support essential services.”

Connecticut reports 'unprecedented' unemployment claims

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - State workers in Connecticut are processing 20 times the number of unemployment claims they normally process, a deluge caused by the coronavirus, officials said Wednesday.  The surge in filings is leading to longer than usual waits for payments.

Before the virus outbreak, claims processing took about one-to-three business days. It’s now taking about three weeks. State officials are urging applicants to have their payments sent via direct deposit to their bank accounts. If not, the funds will be put on a debit card, which could take an additional several days to process.

Department of Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby said staff have been shifted from other jobs to help the unemployment claims operation. Also, about a dozen retirees and other employees who’ve handled the state’s unemployment claims in the past have been asked to return.

The agency received more than 72,000 unemployment claims in just one week, from March 13 to 20, officials said. In a more typical week there are 3,000 to 3,500 claims.

Westby has never seen numbers like this and called it unprecedented.  In the last recession, Westby says Connecticut had high numbers, but those numbers gradually went up. This happened in a week.

Owner of WWII-era bomber prohibited from carrying passengers

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn (AP) - The Federal Aviation Administration revoked a foundation’s permission to carry passengers aboard its World War II-era planes after a deadly crash in October.

The agency cited safety concerns in its decision to prohibit the Collings Foundation from chartering its historic B-17 bomber.

FAA officials found that there were problems with two of the aircraft’s four engines and that the Collings Foundation did not follow the requirements to operate the aircraft and carry passengers and “lacked a safety culture when operating the B-17G,” according to the decision released Wednesday.

The aircraft with 13 people aboard crashed at Bradley International Airport on Oct. 3 after encountering mechanical trouble on takeoff.

Five passengers who had each paid $450 to fly aboard the aircraft as well as the pilot and co-pilot were killed while the others were left with serious burns.

The four-engine, propeller-driven B-17 bomber struggled to get into the air and slammed into a maintenance building at the Hartford airport as the pilots circled back for a landing, officials and witnesses said at the time of the crash.

Conn. Gov. issues new executive orders to deal with COVID-19

Governor Lamont has signed another executive order – the thirteenth since he enacted the emergency declarations – that builds upon his efforts to encourage mitigation strategies that slow down transmission of the virus.

Governor Lamont’s executive order enacts the following provisions:

·       Orders the early opening of the fishing season, effective immediately

·       Suspends restrictions on the re-employment of retired municipal employees: To enable municipalities to meet critical staffing needs caused by COVID-19 with skilled and experienced employees who require little to no additional training, the order modifies state statutes to allow certain retired employees who are in the municipal retirement system to work without any hourly or durational limitation while also continuing to receive retirement allowances.

·       Exacts flexibility to maintain adequate medical marijuana access for patients: The order modifies the state’s medical marijuana program to improve patient access and address staffing shortages in facilities. This includes permitting patients to be certified via telehealth; extending expiration dates for patient and caregiver registrations; allowing dispensary facility staff to move work locations among facilities and, with approval of the state, make adjustments to staffing ratios; and waiving the fee normally charged if someone loses or misplaces their registration certificate.

·       Enacts flexibility in availability and registration of vital records: The order authorizes the Commissioner of Public Health to conduct birth, death and marriage registration, in order to assist local registrars of vital statistics in carrying out their duties as may be required, and to issue any implementing orders she deems necessary.

·       Modifies the requirement that marriage licenses be obtained in the town where the marriage will be celebrated: As municipal offices around the state are closed or have selective hours due to the COVID-19 crisis, the order permits those seeking a marriage license to obtain it in a different municipality than where it will be celebrated.

School closures extended, Conn. gets laptop, book donations

Connecticut public schools will be closed until at least April 20, the governor said Monday, and the state is looking into re-purposing old nursing homes and empty college dormitories to help free up space for hospitals as they brace for more COVID-19 patients.

To help students learn while schools are closed, Gov. Lamont said the Partnership for Connecticut, a public-private education partnership with Dalio Philanthropies, plans to make 60,000 laptop computers available to high school students. He said the laptops will come at “virtually no cost” to the state of Connecticut.

“Laptops are going to mean that not just suburban kids from wealthier areas, but all kids, can have an access to online learning and education,” he said.

As another philanthropic donor steps forward, Governor Lamont creates task force of superintendents to oversee distribution of remote learning resources

Governor Lamont announced that the Nooyi family is making a donation of high-quality, take-home books from Scholastic that will provide reading and writing instruction to more than 185,000 prekindergarten to 8th grade students while learning from home. The books are aligned with Connecticut state learning standards, and parents are encouraged to work with students at home to complete these exercises.

Students in prekindergarten through the third grade will receive four books per student plus a family resource guide. Students from fourth through eighth grades will receive three books per student and a family resource guide.  Students will be able to keep the books indefinitely.

To oversee the distribution of these resources, Governor Lamont and State Department of Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona have created the Governor’s COVID-19 Learn from Home Task Force, which will consist of several superintendents from across the state, including Paul Freeman (Guilford) and Nate Quesnel (East Hartford), who will serve as co-chairs, and Michael Connor (Middletown), Melony Brady Shanley (Winchester), Verna Ruffin (Waterbury), and Iline Tracy (New Haven), who will serve as members. Nick Simmons, Manager of Strategic Initiatives in the Office of the Governor, and Desi Nesmith, Deputy Commissioner of SDE, will also serve as members. The group will be responsible for coordinating superintendents of districts that opt-in for the donations to ensure a safe and efficient distribution process of these critical learning materials to districts and families across the state.

Businesses adapt to new order, number of cases jumps by 200

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut businesses adapted to new social distancing guidelines Tuesday, and state lawmakers were planning to continue work on an assistance package for small companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak despite the postponement of the legislative session.

The changes come the same day Gov. Ned Lamont announced how the number of infections across the state jumped by more than 200 since Monday, to a total of more than 600 positive cases. The Democrat said 12 patients have now died.

“Sometimes infections are related to increase in the number of tests. And that’s not the case this time,” Lamont said. “The infections are related to the fact we have a higher percentage of our people who are actually infected.”

While more than 62% of the total cases are from Fairfield County, Lamont noted how the number of cases in New Haven County doubled since Monday, from 41 to 89. He said the rest of the state should prepare for “what will be coming.” Lamont said he expects the numbers will continue to escalate for at least another week or two.

The vast majority of people recover from the virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

The Republican leader of the Connecticut House of Representatives said state lawmakers still plan to come up with an assistance package, especially for small businesses impacted by the coronoavirus, despite Monday’s announcement the General Assembly’s business has been postponed until at least April 13.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said lawmakers have been working with Lamont to include their ideas in his series of executive orders.

But if a bipartisan plan is crafted that requires large amounts of spending, she said legislators will have to return to Hartford to vote, with social distancing in mind.

“We’ll figure it out. That’s the least of my concern. Even if you bring 10 people in at once and just have everybody kind of on a time schedule, that’s an option, too,” she said.

Father, 2 children found dead in apparent murder-suicide

NORWALK, Conn. (AP) - Police in Connecticut say a father and his two young children were found dead in a garage in what appeared to be a murder-suicide. Norwalk police say they responded to a home shortly after 7:30 a.m. Monday after someone called 911 but hung up. The bodies were found in a detached garage behind a multi-family home in the city's South Norwalk section. The victims were identified as 5-year-old Gessell Moncada, her 4-year-old brother Jesus Moncada and their 27-year-old father, Yimi Moncada, all of Norwalk. Police did not release details of how they died.






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