CONNECTICUT — When asked directly during a news conference Thursday whether he was considering another state lockdown, Gov. Ned Lamont said, flat out, “no.”
The answer came as a relief to thousands of restaurants, retailers and other “non-essential” businesses. The governor’s lockdown order imposed in the spring sent many enterprises into a tailspin from which they would never recover.
But a lot went down last week that may make it tough for the governor to keep his promise. The number of new coronavirus cases confirmed Thursday — an increase of 2,746 from the day prior — was the highest caseload reported ever in a single day in the state: first wave, second wave, any wave. The state’s daily positivity rate is 6.37 percent, a height not climbed since the spring. There were 11 new COVID-associated deaths reported on Thursday as well, bringing the death toll to 4,737.
Earlier in the week, Lamont said the number of hospitalizations was the figure he paid most attention to, from a crisis management perspective. By week’s end, there was plenty to notice. On Thursday, the number of COVID patient beds increased by 42 to a total of 659, the rate of hospitalizations more than doubling in just a few weeks.
Where can you travel to? Not many options
On Tuesday, the latest map of states and territories off-limits to inbound travelers who don’t first quarantine was released by the state Department of Public Health. At first glance it appeared to be bleeding out:
That’s a lot of red.
Travelers from the red zone states must self-quarantine for 14 days or produce a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours prior to arrival.
In the spring, Connecticut and New York were the hot spots, and the rest of the country really wasn’t sure what all the drama was about. Back then, many healthcare workers packed a bag and travelled east to freelance at area hospitals teetering on the COVID precipice. The pay was lucrative. Now, the healthcare crisis is in those out-of-state workers’ own facilities, and nobody is traveling anywhere. If Connecticut does end up facing a winter hospital crisis, it will have to meet it with mostly local talent.
Latest coronavirus alert level shows a lot of red
Inside Connecticut, our own red zone map got even more flush, as released on Thursday:
That’s also a lot of red: 100 municipalities now have a COVID-19 infection rate above 15 cases per 100,000 people per day. Connecticut’s red zone list is barely a month old, and began with only four towns. Another 37 towns as of Thursday were in the state’s orange zone with between 10 and 15 cases per 100,000 people.
Fate of schools in CT?
Several school systems have recently announced a return to remote learning in Connecticut, but many districts are still in-person and others are offering a hybrid model.
Will all schools eventually be back to remote learning sooner than later? No one knows for certain but the latest infections involving students and staff is concerning.
For the week of September 2, there were zero student cases and nine staff cases, according to numbers provided by the state Department of Public Health. The numbers remained relatively low until the week of October 21 and since then there has been a steady rise.
Over the past week alone, 328 staff members in Connecticut schools have contracted the coronavirus and 675 student cases have been reported. Both numbers represent a more than 35 percent one week increase.
The largest percentage increase among new coronavirus cases in schools is for those in the hybrid model.
Governor’s office and U.S. senators impacted
And finally, like a plot twist from some Greek tragedy, Lamont’s own director of Communications, Max Reiss, tweeted out late Friday night that he had tested positive for COVID-19, sending the Office of the Governor into quarantine. The case is the first known one in the governor’s office since the pandemic began.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-CT, said he is isolating after attending an event with Lamont late last week.
“I attended an event yesterday with the Governor but was not in close contact with the staff member who tested positive. Out of an abundance of caution, though, I am isolating until I get tested and consult with the Office of Attending Physician Monday morning,” Murphy said on Saturday.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, said “I hope all of the Governor’s staff is doing OK. Although I didn’t come into close contact, as defined by the CDC, with the staffer who tested positive, I’ve just returned from being tested myself and am currently self-isolating.”
If Lamont does decide to trigger a lockdown, he won’t be alone. New Mexico’s Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a “stay at home” order to begin Monday that would ban nonessential businesses and non-profits from conducting in-person business through the end of the month. Gov. Kate Brown, in Oregon, issued a two-week “freeze” starting Wednesday. The order calls for all businesses to close their offices and mandates work-from-home, but will allow most stores to remain open. Bars and restaurants will be limited to takeout. Indoor, and outdoor, gatherings are limited to six people total, from no more than two households.
Even with a lockdown, there is still a bright spot: Pfizer announced Monday their coronavirus vaccine was 90 percent effective in stage 3 trials, putting them on target to seek emergency approval from the federal government by the end of November.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the US Food & Drug Administration and a Pfizer board member, forecast vaccines will be made available first for high-risk populations. They will then be provided to “broader and broader populations until we are ready to mass inoculate the population, generally.” But that won’t happen until the summer of 2021, he predicted.
So, is Connecticut on track for another lockdown? Again, Lamont said no. But that was on Thursday afternoon, and on Friday, NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo invited him and the governors of New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania to an emergency summit this weekend. On the agenda will be how to address rising COVID-19 cases among their Northeast states and coordinate their responses.
Are the six Northeast region governors coordinating their lockdown strategy? We won’t know until Monday, most likely.