April 07, 2020

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Local COVID Cases Hit Double Digits As Officials Double Down On Distancing Mantra - The Newtown Bee

Between Sunday and late Wednesday, the Newtown Health District saw local COVID-19 cases jump from one to 13 with many more expected, eliciting even stronger reminders from the first selectman and Health District to the governor about maintaining appropriate social distancing.

Newtown police have been responding to reports of larger than appropriate gatherings of young people, some who are trespassing into closed local parks. Posts on internet social network sites regularly point to clusters of people at town trail heads and at Fairfield Hills.

Health District Director Donna Culbert and her staff have been working steadily processing information coming in about residents testing positive, as well as those suspected of having the coronavirus who are coming up negative.

“We also have 34 cases presenting with symptoms that tested negative,” Culbert said, warning Newtown residents that “while this test information is helpful, it is not truly reflective of the level of COVID-19 in our community. I don’t want people to think this is an accurate reflection of the proportion of cases in Newtown,” which has approximately 27,000 residents.

Culbert said seven of the positive cases she was monitoring Wednesday evening, March 25, are male, and six are female. She was reviewing tests that had been administered between March 16 and March 23.

In a conference call with State Epidemiologist Dr Matthew Cartter, Culbert said state models show that social distancing practices in place “should flatten the curve, but we’re still in the acceleration phase,” although Dr Cartter reminded reporters just a short time later that Connecticut residents should expect to see statewide numbers double every three to four days for the time being.

Governor Ned Lamont reported March 25 that a total of 875 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported — a jump of 257 since the previous day. By Wednesday evening, more than 5,898 tests had been conducted in Connecticut among both state and private laboratories.

Approximately 113 people have been hospitalized and there were 19 related fatalities. Fairfield County continued to be the hot zone in Connecticut with nearly 550 confirmed COVID-19 cases and a dozen deaths by sunset on March 25, followed by New Haven County with 127 cases and Hartford County with 116.

Hartford and New Haven Counties had each logged two deaths at press time.

Sick at Home?

Culbert and First Selectman Dan Rosenthal both believe the escalating numbers in Newtown are a result of the rapid expansion of testing sites in the region, including local commercial labs.

“I also want to reinforce that people should be distancing themselves,” Rosenthal said. At the same time, Culbert reached out to those households where one or more members is either positive, awaiting test results, or experiencing symptoms of the virus.

The latest in an ongoing series of video messages being produced in partnership between the town and The Newtown Bee (available on The Newtown Bee’s YouTube page), Rosenthal talks about how he is working to keep town staffers as safe as possible while continuing to provide necessary taxpayer services, including preparing some workers to pivot to supporting the Human Services Department if demand there begins to surge

Culbert reiterated a number of advisory points mirrored in a public announcement from her office last weekend. She is especially concerned residents who may have one or more COVID-19 cases in their home maintain advised separation and that disinfecting protocols are being followed as best they can.

“We all need to take personal action to reduce transmission, illness, and deaths, as well as social and economic impacts to our lives,” the health director stated. “We have a responsibility to ourselves, our families, and our communities to limit the effect of COVID-19. If we do all that we can do, to the best of our ability, we can make a difference.”

As more people become sick, Culbert said carefully caring for sick people and staying well while staying home with sick family members is important to minimize spreading the virus, serious illness, and excessive burden on hospitals and death.

“If you or a family member is sick, stay home,” she said. “Limit interaction with others to the maximum extent possible. Those experiencing symptoms [fever, cough, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties] should call their healthcare provider to discuss and decide possible follow-up actions.”

Those with a sick family or household member should isolate that (those) sick person(s) in the home to one room or area and one bathroom. If that is not possible, have only one person in the home help take care of the ill person, and clean and disinfect “common touch areas” (door knobs, faucets, etc) often.

The CDC’s latest guidance on maintaining a sick person at home is available at

cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick.

While it may seem trivial at this point, Rosenthal said he is becoming increasingly concerned by reports of rubber gloves being discarded in public areas and parking lots. Besides diverting those critical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) items from front line medical personnel who need them the most, the first selectman said the act of tossing used gloves anywhere but into the trash is “offensive.”

“That behavior doesn’t speak to who we are as members of the Newtown community,” he said.

Business Economic Relief

If there is any positive news in recent days, Rosenthal sees it coming out of Hartford and Washington, DC in the form of critically needed economic relief for individuals and businesses.

In cooperation with the state, Newtown Economic & Community Development Deputy Christal Preszler announced early Thursday, March 26, that Connecticut small businesses and nonprofits negatively impacted by the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic can now apply for one-year, no-interest loans of up to $75,000 under the launch of a new program administered by the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD).

The Connecticut Recovery Bridge Loan Program will make $25 million available to Connecticut businesses and nonprofits that have 100 or fewer employees to assist with cash flow. Loan amounts are up to the lesser of either three months operating expenses and/or $75,000.

“We know that our small businesses and nonprofits have been hit hard by the public safety measures put into place to prevent the spread of this disease,” Governor Lamont said. “Owners are understandably worried about their business, their employees, and their future. This program was designed to provide immediate financial assistance to help these organizations maintain operations and get through this difficult time.”

Provisions and eligibility requirements include: zero percent interest rate; 12-month term with six-month extension per request; personal guaranty and credit score required; approval contingent upon business being profitable prior to March 10, 2020 and no adverse personal credit reports 60 days past due for the last six months; and ineligible companies include those involved in real estate, multi-level marketing, adult entertainment, cannabis, and firearms.

All eligibility and application information can be found on the state’s COVID-19 website at ct.gov/coronavirus.

Early results of a business survey being conducted by the nonprofit organization AdvanceCT, in partnership with DECD and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), indicate that the most critical need of companies at this time is assistance with cash flow, with 82 percent of respondents expecting a drop in revenue due to the virus.

Underwriting support for the program is being provided by Connecticut Innovations.

As the March 27, 2020 print edition of The Newtown Bee went to press on March 26, the first selectman continued his message of “doing the right things.”

“I’m encouraged to know that most of our local cases are convalescing at home,” Rosenthal said. “We all want to keep well, but we also should be mindful of the growing number of our Newtown neighbors who aren’t and to keep them in our thoughts.”

He also assured residents that while town employees are working in restricted environments with rotating shifts, all town services are still available. “We’re just trying to do as much by mail, e-mail, and over the phone as possible,” Rosenthal said.

The health director reminds residents that online resources and information is available. Stay informed by visiting:

*Town of Newtown COVID-19 web page: newtown-ct.gov/covid-19-information-newtown-residents-and-businesses

*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

*CT Department of Public Health: portal.ct.gov/Coronavirus

*World Health Organization: who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

COVID-19 Relief Bill

US Senator Chris Murphy offered updates Wednesday evening, including information on the work by the Senate on the latest COVID-19 relief bill.

On March 25, the Senate reached an agreement on a third COVID-19 relief bill to help workers, families, hospitals and their staff, and small businesses. The bipartisan legislation includes direct cash payments for low and middle-income families — $1,200 per person and $500 per child; $150 billion for hospitals and health systems to fight the virus; $260 billion for increased unemployment insurance that waives waiting periods and covers part-time, self-employed, and gig economy workers; $377 billion to rescue small businesses, including forgivable loans to small businesses and non-profits to maintain their workforce and help pay for other expenses like rent, mortgage, and utilities.

The bill also includes $150 billion to assist States, Tribes, and local governments with new expenses related to COVID-19 response; $30.75 billion for grants to provide emergency support to local school systems and higher education institutions to continue providing educational services to their students, as well as $8.8 billion in additional funding to ensure meals for children while schools are closed; $3.5 billion to support child care centers and provide child care for first responders and health care workers; and $400 million in election assistance for the states to help prepare for the 2020 election cycle, including to increase the ability to vote by mail and expand early voting and online registration.

In addition, the bill includes $7 billion for affordable housing and homelessness assistance programs, which will help low-income and working-class Americans avoid evictions; $450 million through The Emergency Food Assistance Program to help stock the shelves of local food banks; strong requirements for industries receiving bailout money including no stock buybacks or dividends, restrictions on increases to executive compensation and a prohibition of funds for any businesses controlled by the President, Vice President, Members of Congress, and heads of Executive Departments.

State Updates

Senator Murphy also provided the following updates:

*The Connecticut Department of Public Health is asking health care professionals, such as retired nurses and doctors, to consider volunteering their services at a medical facility in Connecticut.

Those willing to volunteer should fill out the online form located at ctresponds.ct.gov.

*The State reiterated that the tax filing season has been extended to July 15 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Taxpayers can go here to learn more about the extension.

*Connecticut veterans having difficulty reaching their health care provider should contact the Connecticut VA at 866-808-7921. The call center will get in touch with the nurse or doctor for veterans.

*Over 100,000 people in Connecticut have filed unemployment claims since March 13.

To apply for unemployment, visit filectui.com.

*On Tuesday, Governor Lamont announced a public-private partnership between the state of Connecticut and philanthropists Indra and Raj Nooyi to distribute take-home books from Scholastic that will provide reading and writing instruction to more than 185,000 pre-K to eighth grade students while learning from home.

For additional resources and information about Connecticut’s response visit ct.gov/coronavirus.

The Newtown Bee is continuing to provide and mirror information and messages coming from local and state agencies on a daily and sometimes hourly basis at newtownbee.com. Residents can also review all prior COVID-19 updates and follow the newspaper’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube pages for breaking local and state reports.

A lone shopper approaches the doors at Big Y on Queen Street on March 20. Locally, retailers — especially grocery and pharmacy operations — appear to be adequately stocked with items except those in extremely high demand, while municipal leaders and health officials continue to improvise to ensure proper social distancing remains a high priority, as government functions continue as best they can in the face of the current pandemic. (Bee Photo, Hicks)
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