State news

COVID-19 care centers reopening amid nursing home outbreaks

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut is reopening health care centers dedicated solely to treating COVID-19 patients amid a resurgence of the coronavirus across the state, including in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, a state Department of Public Health spokesperson said Friday.

A coronavirus “recovery center” in Meriden reopened last week to serve up to 30 patients and there are now plans to reopen one in Torrington with another 30 beds in the near future, department spokesperson Av Harris said. The two facilities were among several around the state that opened earlier in the pandemic but later closed as virus rates dropped over the summer.

The reopenings come as Connecticut on Friday surpassed 100,000 positive coronavirus tests since the pandemic began, and as public and private schools saw a 70% increase in positive student tests compared with last week.

Two other centers in East Hartford and Wallingford have remained open during the pandemic. They’re designed to treat COVID-19 patients discharged from the hospital before they return to nursing homes and other locations.

“This helps those nursing homes manage their COVID-19 outbreaks through infection control measures such as cohorting their residents appropriately and offering maximum protection to those residents who are COVID negative,” Harris said in an email to The Associated Press.

Harris also said the centers help free up hospital beds by caring for patients who no longer need acute care. He added that Connecticut hospitals currently have adequate space to treat COVID-19 patients.

The facility in Meriden, at the former Westfield Care and Rehabilitation Center, had already exceeded its initial capacity of 30 by one patient on Friday and set up another 30 beds because of increasing infections, said Tim Brown, marketing and communications director at Athena Health Care Systems, which runs the facility. The building can house up to 90 patients.

The number of Connecticut nursing home residents who are testing positive for the coronavirus and dying from the disease has more than tripled over the past month amid a second COVID-19 surge statewide, according to the latest state data released Thursday. Positive tests among assisted living facility residents have doubled, but deaths have remained steady at three or four per week.

For the week of Nov. 11 to 17, there were 306 nursing home residents who tested positive for the virus and 39 died, compared with 71 positive tests and 15 deaths during the week of Oct. 14 to 20. During the same period, the number of staff members infected increased from 86 to 262, but none of them died, state data show.

In assisted living facilities, 59 residents tested positive and three died during the week of Nov. 11 to 17, compared with 27 positive cases and no deaths the week of Oct. 14 to 20. Employee infections rose from 39 to 66 over the same period, but no deaths were reported.

The increasing infections correspond to statewide and nationwide increases in coronavirus infections and deaths. Since Oct. 20, the number of daily positive virus tests in the state has increased from about 430 to nearly 2,100. Daily virus-related deaths have increased from five to 23 over the same period, and hospitalizations have risen from about 220 to nearly 850.

To date, about 101,470 people in Connecticut have tested positive for the virus and nearly 4,830 have died.

Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday that he was concerned about the virus resurgence in nursing homes.

“Most of our nursing homes now do have an infection ... not outbreaks but infections,” he said. “Don’t go visit right now. Do not go visit right now. ... If you want to keep your loved ones safe that’s our strongest recommendation going forward.”

Nearly 1,150 Connecticut public and private school students have tested positive for the coronavirus since last week, a 70% increase compared with the previous weeklong period. And nearly 490 educators tested positive, up 49%, according to data released this week by the state Department of Education.

State Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said Friday that Connecticut is not seeing mass transmission in schools and most of the infections are linked to activities outside of school, The Hartford Courant reported. Some school districts, however, have moved from in-person to remote learning because of rising virus rates.

Connecticut has nearly 528,000 public school students and 52,000 educators.

Of the latest students in prekindergarten through Grade 12 to test positive, 348 attend in-person classes full time, 508 take part in a hybrid of in-person and remote learning and 274 are in fully remote learning.

Positive tests increased 51% for students learning completely in-person, 58% for those in hybrid programs and 138% for those learning remotely, compared with the previous week.


2 Connecticut state troopers, driver hurt in highway crash

WETHERSFIELD, Conn. (AP) — Two Connecticut state troopers and another person were injured late Friday afternoon in a three-car crash on a highway south of Hartford.

State police say the troopers were helping a driver whose car broke down in the left shoulder of Interstate 91 southbound in Wethersfield when another car struck their cruiser, which was pushed into the disabled vehicle. The cruiser also struck Trooper-trainee Nicholas Terry.

Terry’s injuries were “moderate” but not life-threatening, state police aid. Trooper Donald Stankosky and the driver of the car that struck the cruiser, Rafael Mendoza, of East Hartford, suffered minor injuries. All three were brought to a hospital. The driver of the disabled car was not hurt.

Mendoza was following a vehicle in front of him too closely when it suddenly slowed and he swerved to the left to avoid hitting hit, state police said. His car then struck the police cruiser in the left shoulder.

No charges against Mendoza have been announced. A phone number and other contact information for Mendoza could not immediately be found Saturday.


Town officials charged in probe of hazardous waste dumping

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (AP) — Five former or current officials of Fairfield, Connecticut, are among several people who have been arrested in connection with the illegal dumping of hazardous materials next to the town’s public works garage and efforts to hide the extent of the contamination, according to police.

Several of the officials were arrested this past week. The charges are related to a nearly three-acre site containing PCBs, lead and other hazardous materials, Fairfield police said. Town officials estimate cleanup of the site will cost $5 million to $10 million.

Among those arrested are former Public Works Director Joseph Michelangelo, former Public Works Superintendent Scott Bartlett, interim Public Works Director Brian Carey and former Human Resources Director Emmet Hibson. Police also arrested Robert Grabarek, of Clinton, owner of Osprey Environmental Engineering.

They are charged with the illegal disposing of PCBs and solid waste, as well as conspiracy. All are free on promises to appear in court next month.

Robert Mayer, former chief of staff to former First Selectman Michael Tetreau, was charged earlier this year with hiding evidence in the case.

Bartlett and Michelangelo also were previously charged with conspiring with construction company owner Jason Julian to allow Julian’s company to dump the hazardous materials at the town-owned site. Authorities lodged bribery and kickback charges against Bartlett and Julian, Hearst Connecticut Media reported.

Investigators said the town hired Grabarek’s company in 2016 to clean up the site and construct a berm around it to prevent adjacent properties from becoming contaminated. Instead, police said, Grabarek’s company and town officials conspired to bury contaminated materials into the berm.

Fairfield police began an investigation of the dumping in 2017 and arrested several town officials in July 2019.

Contact information for Michelangelo and Carey could not be immediately found Saturday. Messages seeking comment were left for Bartlett, Hibson and Grabarek. Mayer and Julian have pleaded not guilty in the case.


Conn. banning all youth sports until at least Jan. 19.

Gov. Ned Lamont announced he is banning all youth sports in the state until at least Jan. 19.

That coincides with the date set earlier this week by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference for the start of the high school winter sports season.

The governor had previously allowed moderate risk youth sports such as hockey and basketball to continue if the kids involved wore masks while playing.

Lamont said the move, which goes into effect on Monday, comes after contact tracing linked outbreaks among sports teams to 17 school closures and the quarantining of 235 teachers.

“This is the best way we can keep your schools open a little bit longer,” he said.

Lamont said he is starting a “Connecticut Health Corps,” where people can volunteer to help during the pandemic.

His office is creating a website that will recruit emergency apprentice teachers in districts experiencing staffing shortages, contact tracers for the state, workers at testing sites and for other jobs.

Lamont appealed specifically to college students, many of whom are coming home for the remainder of their fall semesters and holiday breaks.

“We have a bit of a fire on our hands and the more people we have in the bucket brigade, the safer it is for each and every one of you,” he said.


Virus testing centers see hourslong lines as demand spikes

An increase in demand for coronavirus testing in advance of Thanksgiving has led to hourslong lines across Connecticut as providers scramble to add capacity and hire new workers.

That comes despite the recent addition of 60 new testing sites in the past few weeks, bringing the total to 260 sites across the state.

“We’re doing 20 times more testing than we were just a few months ago,” Gov. Ned Lamont said.

Leslie Gianelli, a spokesperson for Community Health Center, Inc. which operates 15 testing sites across the state, said the wait time at those facilities on Thursday was over two hours.

Similar waits were being reported by Hartford HealthCare at its eight sites.

The governor’s office said it is working with all its testing partners to increase staff, open more testing lanes at existing facilities and extend operating hours.

Gianelli said they are currently trying to hire about 100 additional workers, from administrative support to nurses who can administer the tests.

Capt. Dave Pytlik, a spokesperson for the Connecticut National Guard, said they have deployed about 50 Guard soldiers and airmen to help at testing sites.

“Sometimes that’s administrative support, sometimes that’s processing the samples, sometimes that’s actually doing the swabs,” he said.

Hartford HealthCare said it is testing between 30,000 and 40,000 this week. It plans to open a new drive-thru center at Bradley International Airport on Monday and recently moved centers in Hartford to the convention center and in Norwich to Dodd Stadium to increase testing capacity.

“We certainly don’t see any decrease in the testing that we are going to need,” said Dr. James Cardon, who runs Hartford HealthCare’s testing program. “We appreciate everybody’s patience, but we understand this is difficult. But we have a singular focus on trying to improve so that people aren’t disrupted as much as they are currently.”

He said that system is giving testing priority during the first few hours each day those who are scheduled to undergo medical procedures.

Thursday’s report from Lamont’s office showed 36,339 tests conducted, with 2,353 positive tests reported.

Connecticut’s seven-day rolling average positivity rate has risen over the past two weeks from 3.75% on Nov. 4 to 5.55% on Wednesday.


Police search river after third pipe bomb found

MERIDEN, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut police searched the Quinnipiac River in Meriden on Thursday after a third pipe bomb was found in the water.

Meriden police requested help from the state police bomb squad to search the area where the third bomb was found last weekend to make sure there were no others. No additional bombs were found Thursday morning, Meriden Sgt. Darrin McKay said.

The other bombs were found in the same area in January and September. McKay said all three bombs had been submerged for long periods of time. Authorities destroyed all the bombs.

Two men who were magnet fishing on Sunday found the latest bomb, the Record-Journal reported.

The explosives were found in the river near a pedestrian bridge and adjoining vehicle bridge.

Officials said it’s not clear who put the bombs there.


Regional governors urge college student COVID-19 testing before Thanksgiving break

The University of Connecticut reported 56 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday.

That is the highest single-day total reported since the school began testing. It comes just two days before students head home for Thanksgiving and the school switches to remote learning for the remainder of the fall semester.

The school says 16 of those cases involved residential students and 40 were people who live off-campus, including two employees.

UConn says it will continue to provide housing for students who are in quarantine or isolation during the Thanksgiving break.

The news comes as Gov. Ned Lamont joined other regional governors in urging residential colleges and universities to provide testing for all students before they head home for Thanksgiving.

A second coronavirus testing center is opening at Bradley International Airport.

This one, run by Hartford HealthCare will be a drive-thru facility and will be open to the entire community, not just airline passengers.

The temporary center is being put up in an airport parking lot and will be open every day beginning Nov. 23 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Customers do not need an appointment, pre-registration or a doctor’s order and do not have to leave their vehicles.

The existing site, located near baggage claim, is open only to ticketed passengers.


Surge in COVID-19 cases pushes hospitalizations past 800

Connecticut has seen COVID-19 hospitalizations rise past 800 for the first time since May.

Connecticut reported more 2,042 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, pushing the state’s tally to 97,028 since March.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s office reported that COVID-19 hospitalizations rose by 39 cases, bringing the total number of coronavirus patients in the state’s hospitals to 816. That is up from a low of 42 people hospitalized on Aug. 16 and more than at any time since May 20. It’s an increase of 476 patients this month alone.

Lamont’s office also recorded 13 additional coronavirus-related deaths, which brought Connecticut’s total to 4,784.

Connecticut’s seven-day rolling average positivity rate has risen over the past two weeks from 3.55% on Nov. 3 to 5.35% on Tuesday.

On Monday, the the governor predicted Connecticut would hit 100,000 total coronavirus cases by the end of the week.

A member of Lamont’s security detail and the commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services have both tested positive for the virus.

Commissioner Miriam Delphin-Rittmon said in a statement Tuesday night that her symptoms are mild and she is quarantining at home.

Lamont’s chief of staff, Paul Mounds, said the member of the security team received the positive test result on Wednesday and immediately went into isolation.

Lamont has been in quarantine at home since his communications director, Max Reiss, tested positive for the virus last week.

Mounds said that there have been not other positive tests among senior staff, who are expected to be tested again on Thursday.

A 45-year-old man who had been imprisoned at the Osborn Correctional Institution died on Wednesday from complications related to the coronavirus.

The state Department of Correction said the prisoner, whose name wasn’t released, had been hospitalized since Oct. 15.

The man was serving a three-year sentence for burglary and strangulation and would have been eligible for parole next May.

The death is the eighth linked to the coronavirus in the prison system, but the first since May 26.

“This is a sobering reminder that we cannot let our guard down when it comes to the coronavirus. We will continue to take the necessary precautions to limit its spread within our facilities,” said Commissioner Designate Angel Quiros. “My condolences go out to his family and loved ones.”


Lawsuit: HUD perpetuated racial segregation in Hartford area

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Plaintiffs allege in a lawsuit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has perpetuated racial segregation in Hartford, Connecticut, with its subsidized housing policies. The complaint was filed in federal court Wednesday by 10 former residents of three housing complexes in the city's North End and by a nonprofit group. They say HUD violated the Fair Housing Act by failing to help poor Black and Hispanic families living in dilapidated, federally subsidized housing move to better neighborhoods in the city and its suburbs. A HUD official declined to comment Wednesday.


Child Advocate: COVID-19 lockdowns harming youth in prison

Connecticut's child advocate says efforts to control the spread of the new coronavirus inside the state's prison system have had unintended and harmful consequences for incarcerated children and young adults. In a report released Tuesday, Sarah Eagan said lockdowns and quarantines at the Manson Youth Institution during the pandemic resulted in what amounted to solitary confinement for many inmates between March and August. Her report also found that during the first few months of the pandemic, children received no educational programs in prison and limited mental health care. The department says mental health care for the youth population has continued throughout the pandemic.


Electric Boat workforce contends with rising infections

General Dynamics Electric Boat, the Connecticut-based builder of U.S. Navy submarines, is encouraging more people to work from home as it contends with a surge in coronavirus infections among its workforce. A total of 404 infections have been reported among Electric Boat staff, including 170 in the three weeks leading up to Nov. 13. The Groton-based company employs about 12,000 people in Connecticut, 4,000 in Rhode Island and a small number at shipyards elsewhere in the U.S. Company spokesperson Liz Power says the company has added sanitizing stations and expanded the ability to work from home for workers who do not have to be in the shipyards.


Officials: DNA match leads to arrest in 1984 sexual assaults

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Prosecutors say a Connecticut man has been arrested in connection with four armed sexual assaults dating to 1984 thanks to information from a genealogy database. The Chief State's Attorney's Office says 69-year-old Michael Marion Sharpe was arrested Monday after the office's cold case unit matched his DNA with DNA from the four crime scenes. Investigators collected trash from outside Sharpe's home and got a search warrant to take a swab of his saliva to confirm the match. Sharpe is accused of sexual assaults in four different Connecticut towns during June and July of 1984. He was arraigned Tuesday on four counts of first-degree kidnapping. An attorney for Sharpe said he has not had a chance to review the DNA evidence.


Plymouth mom accused of shooting children appears in court

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) - A Plymouth woman charged in connection with shooting two of her children, one of them fatally, has made her first court appearance. Naomi Bell said nothing as she was presented via video conference Monday in New Britain Superior Court. Her attorney told the judge she has been suffering from mental health issues. The 43-year-old Bell was arrested Friday night at her home, where her 15-year-old daughter was found shot to death and her 7-year-old son was critically injured. Bell's bond was kept at $2.5 million. She is due back in court on Jan. 12.


Nunez-Smith says Biden, Trump advisors need to work together

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - The Yale professor who co-chairs President-elect Joe Biden's coronavirus advisory board says she is optimistic that President Donald Trump's coronavirus advisors will work with her group during the transition. Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith says here is a long "wish list" of information the incoming administration would like to get about the Trump administrations COVID-19 strategy, with plans for the storage and distribution of a vaccine at or near the top. Nunez-Smith also says Biden plans to work with governors, mayors and others to "get to that place where we in effect have national agreement and unification and adherence to mask-wearing standards."


New Britain advances review of Columbus statue removal

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) - New Britain's Common Council has advanced a measure that would remove a statue of explorer Christopher Columbus from a city park. The council heard from residents and others for more than two hours Thursday before voting to refer a resolution for removal to committee for review. The Administration, Finance and Law Committee will analyze the cost of removing the statue from McCabe Park and where it should be taken. Columbus statues have been removed in Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, New London, Norwalk and Middletown over what opponents say is the explorer's role in the genocide and exploitation of native peoples in the Americas.


2 children shot, one fatally, in CT home; woman arrested

PLYMOUTH, Conn. (AP) - Police say a woman shot two children in a suburban Connecticut home, killing one child and critically injuring the other. A Connecticut State Police report says Naomi Bell was arrested on murder and attempted murder charges. Police haven't said what relationship, if any, the 43-year-old Bell has to the children. She is due for arraignment Monday, and there was no immediate information on her legal representation. A phone message was left at an apparent phone number for her home in the Terryville section of Plymouth.


Hamden schools go remote, Bridgeport schools closed Monday

HAMDEN, Conn. (AP) - Hamden public schools will switch to all-remote learning until at least mid-January after a vote by the Board of Education. The New Haven Register reports that the board voted Saturday to move to fully remote learning as of Nov. 23. There are about 5,400 students in Hamden's eight elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. Bridgeport public schools will be closed Monday due to staffing concerns. School Superintendent Michael Testani says the decision was made after a high number of teachers have reportedly been exposed to COVID-19 at non-school gatherings. Testani says school will reopen Tuesday if circumstances improve.


2 people killed in explosion at state VA hospital

Two people were killed in an explosion at the state Veterans Affairs Hospital in West Haven this morning.  One person was reportedly a employee and the other was an outside contractor.  A spokesperson for the VA says the pair were fixing a leak in the steam plant, which is not part of the hospital building, when the explosion occurred.  

Brian Foley, a top aide to state Public Safety Commissioner James Rovella, said in a text message to The Associated Press on Friday that state and federal investigators are responding to the VA Medical Center in West Haven.

State police earlier said they were assisting with an investigation of an explosion at the VA building in West Haven at the request of the city's fire marshal. State police said they were sending three detectives.


More schools ending in-person learning amid rising outbreaks

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s largest school district in Bridgeport is among several in the state to announce an end or scaling back of in-person learning as coronavirus rates keep rising.

Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Michael Testani said Thursday that all instruction will be switched to remote learning on Nov. 23.

“The consistent increase in positive cases of COVID-19 in our community is cause for great concern at this time, as it affects our ability to safely keep our schools adequately staffed and safe for in-person learning,” he said in a notification to parents.

Bridgeport is seeing some of the largest increases of infections in the state, with a two-week average of 53 new daily cases per 100,000 population. As of Thursday, there were 89 students and 30 staff members at 34 schools who had tested positive.

Also Thursday, Waterbury schools announced that four high schools and three middle schools will be moving from a hybrid model of some in-school classes and some remote learning to full remote instruction on Nov. 30. Plans call for students returning to schools on Jan. 19.

Ansonia schools also alerted parents Thursday that all in-school classes will end Friday and the district will switch completely to remote instruction through Jan. 18, citing the town’s high positive virus test rate of 27%.

Earlier this month, Hartford schools said they were reducing the number of in-person learning days per week for kindergarten through ninth grade beginning Nov. 16. On Tuesday, Shelton schools announced that all instruction would be moved online until January.

Many schools around the state have closed temporarily this school year because of students or staff testing positive for COVID-19. Within the past week, nearly 700 students and more than 300 school staff around Connecticut tested positive, according to the state Department of Public Health.

Despite increasing virus rates, Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday continued to urge schools districts to keep in-person learning at least for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. He said data show young children are not a major contributor to rising virus rates, and long-term isolation can harm students socially and emotionally.

“I think Connecticut did well having the majority of their schools open as long as we have,” the Democratic governor said at a news briefing Thursday. “We’re going to watch this over the next couple weeks.”

Lamont added it was possible many schools could switch to remote learning after Thanksgiving, given the rising virus rates.

On Thursday, the state reported 10 more coronavirus-related deaths compared with Wednesday, bringing the state’s total to 4,726. Another 33 people were hospitalized compared with Wednesday, pushing the total to more than 600, the highest number in several months.

Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases in the state has increased by about 730, a 120% increase, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Also Thursday, Lamont announced the state has launched its COVID Alert CT cellphone app, which informs people if they may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Information on the app is available at www.ct.gov/covidalertct.

Officials said that once the app is installed, it uses Bluetooth to sense whether a user’s phone has been within 6 feet of someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus for a total of 15 minutes or more in one day. Lamont said the app does not share any personal information.


Plans finalized to have 40 teams in Mohegan "Bubbleville"

UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Final plans were announced Thursday for 11 days of college basketball this month inside a modified bubble at the Mohegan Sun resort casino in Connecticut.

The event, dubbed “Bubbleville” will include 40 teams playing 45 games in tournaments that were either relocated or created to be played at the resort between Nov. 25 and Dec 5.

The event was organized by he Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which holds its men’s Tip-Off Tournament and Women’s Challenge at Mohegan Sun every year, and the Gazelle Group, which runs the Empire Classic and the Legends Classic, both of which are normally held in New York.

The Mohegan Sun had already developed protocols for coronavirus testing, cleaning and managing sports during the pandemic. It also has its own medical staff and facilities to treat and isolate anyone who may be infected.

The resort teamed with Viacom over the summer to produce televised events for boxing and mixed martial arts.

Each team will be tested upon arrival. Each school will have its own secured floor in the resort’s 34-story tower hotels along with meeting and catered dining areas.

The teams will move around through designated “back of the house” corridors so they don’t interact with the public.

The organizers plan to use a pool of about 25 officials, who also will be housed at the resort for those two weeks.

The casino had already installed safety devices as part of its reopening in June, including ultraviolet lighting and special filters in its HVAC system.

“It’s a single site, secluded location, with enormous square footage for social distancing,” Greg Procino, vice president of basketball operations for the Hall of Fame, told The Associated Press last month. “There are a lot of things that will work in our favor,

The organizers are not planning to allow fans at the games.

Schools involved include men’s No. 2 Baylor, No. 3 Villanova, No. 4 Virginia, No. 18 Arizona State and No. 20 Oregon. The women’s programs competing are scheduled to include No. 3 UConn, No. 5 Louisville and No. 6 Mississippi State.

Most of the games will be played at the 10,000-seat Mohegan Sun Arena, the home of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun. Other’s will take place in the resort’s 125,000-square-foot exposition center which will house several courts that also will be used as practice facilities.

The tournaments taking place at Mohegan Sun include the Roman Legends Classic, the 2K Empire Classic, the HomeLight Classic, the Air Force Reserve Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, the Air Force Reserve Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge, the Jimmy V Women’s Classic and several pods and single games developed specifically for “Bubbleville.”


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