Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Monday that Connecticut is currently “in a good place” because the state’s baseline rate of COVID-19 infections is very low, predicting the state will have an upper hand with containing, rather than just mitigating, any flare-ups that might develop this fall.
The state’s infection rate has remained around 1% in recent weeks, among the lowest in the country.
“It is not inevitable that your numbers will go up” if the state continues to follow the fundamental principles of preventing the spread of infection, said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He was referring to things like social distancing measures, mask wearing, contact tracing and making testing readily available.
“It is possible that you can use the favorable position that you are in now to keep the numbers down,” he said. “I urge you to utilize the advantageous position that you’re in, in Connecticut, with a very low baseline to try and keep it there.”
Monday marked the first time Fauci has participated in one of Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s coronavirus briefing with reporters. Lamont has invited other medical experts, including former Food and Drug Administration Director Scott Gottlieb, to make presentations and answer questions from reporters.
Fauci’s appearance comes as the state’s teachers unions continue to voice concerns about the safety of returning to the classroom, especially given reports of children becoming infected in other parts of the country and the world. The Connecticut Education Association has said it opposes any plan to reopen schools in the state at 100% capacity, especially without the necessary funding to ensure protocols from the Centers for Disease Control are met.
Lamont highlighted three benchmarks for determining whether the number of cases warrant in-school learning, a combination of in-school and on-line learning, or all online learning. Currently, Connecticut has had fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 residents, which Lamont said is appropriate for in-school learning.
With a low infection rate, Fauci said “there’s very little chance of there being infection spread” in schools, so long as everyone is taking the steps needed to prevent spread of the coronavirus.
“It’s always up to the final decision of the responsible parent to do what’s best for the child,” he said. “We can only show you that when the infection is low, at the level you’re seeing now, the risk is low. But if you do start to see infections, you may need to pull back ... You need to be very flexible, with the primary motivating force being the safety and the welfare of the children and the teachers.”
Connecticut surpassed 50,000 positive cases of COVID-19 over the weekend, with an additional 252 positive tests since Friday. That’s out of an additional 35,173 tests performed since Friday. Meanwhile, there have been 4,4437 COVID-associated deaths, an increase of five since Friday. There were 56 hospitalizations.
While Connecticut’s economy is beginning to improve, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo warned Monday the state needs more financial help from the federal government to address the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, including the extension of the $600 a week supplemental unemployment benefit.
He noted how the bond rating agency Moody’s Analytics recently cited Connecticut as one of the few states with enough reserves to handle a modest recession, with a current balance of more than $2.8 billion, but warned that significant federal help was needed to prevent more serious scenarios.
“Without a significant investment from the federal government, those gains may slip away, and Connecticut families and businesses will suffer,” he said in a written statement.
Lembo issued his monthly financial and economic report on Monday, predicting the 2020 fiscal year will end with a $128.1 million budget deficit.
Connecticut has so far recovered more than 100,000 jobs lost at the beginning of the pandemic. However, Lembo said the state’s unemployment levels are still near record-highs and employment remains down 172,700 jobs compared to a year ago.
Connecticut prison officials say they are prepared for a second wave of COVID-19.
Interim Correction Commissioner Angel Quiros told lawmakers Monday that the department, which did not have enough masks or other personal protective equipment for inmates and staff in March, is now well stocked with a 90-day supply on hand.
But Quiros also cautioned lawmakers that the department will need more funding from the state to maintain current levels of cleaning, testing and medical care at the prisons.
“Once the federal reimbursement is no longer in effect, we’re going to still have to test the offenders upon release, upon entry, so I think there is going to be a cost there for the testing and a cost there for the medical assistance to carry out the testing at all 14 correctional facilities,” he said.
Quiros said despite historically low inmate numbers, he is recommending the state not close any prisons, because he believes space could be needed to properly socially distance inmates should another wave of COVID-19 hit the prisons.
Quiros also said he plans to move the department’s COVID-19 medical isolation unit out of the state’s super-max Northern Correctional Institution, because he believes inmates may have hidden their coronavirus symptoms to avoid being transferred to that prison.
The department has had more than 1,400 inmates and 386 staff members test positive for the virus since the pandemic began. Seven inmate deaths have been linked to the coronavirus.