State news

Expert warns it will be 'challenging' to keep low virus rate

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said Thursday it will be “challenging” for his home state of Connecticut to continue maintaining its current, relatively low COVID-19 infection rate by this coming fall and winter, considering the large amount traffic in and out of the region.

In the meantime, the father of three said it makes sense to have students return to school for at least a little while and get as much in-person learning and socialization as possible before switching to distance learning for the remainder of the year if the number of cases begins to become more widespread.

“And that point may come,” he said during a briefing with Gov. Ned Lamont. “I would think at some point, this is going become epidemic again in some fashion in the Northeast. We just have so much infection around the country.”

Gottlieb predicted the country will be grappling with COVID-19 for at least six more months, until there is a vaccine, possibly by early 2021.

“We bought ourselves a couple of months in the Northeast because of the mitigation steps we took ... Hopefully we can extend that as long as possible, but this is going to be touch and go between now and the end of the year,” he said.

Connecticut currently has among the lowest infection rates in the country, slightly less than 1%, Lamont said Thursday.

“Is it going to stay that way? I think it’s going to be challenging for a state that has as much movement in and out, as this region does, this whole region, to avoid a lot of introductions, given the amount of infection there is around the country,” Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb warned Connecticut will likely see more COVID-19 infection around the same time the traditional influenza season begins, which he predicted will put a lot of pressure on the state’s health care and testing systems.

As of Thursday, there have been 47,750 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut and 4,389 COVID-associated deaths, an increase of nine since Wednesday. Meanwhile, 66 patients were being treated for COVID-19, a decrease of one since Wednesday.

Even though Connecticut received nearly $1.4 billion in federal assistance to help address the coronavirus pandemic, Lamont said Thursday much more is needed considering the large requests for financial help he’s been receiving from hospitals, municipalities, nonprofit agencies, local schools and others.

The Democrat rattled off a long list of groups hit hard financially by COVID-19 and that could easily use at least one-third of that money. He noted state government could also use federal financial help, considering a projected revenue loss of up to $3 billion. However, the state is ineligible to use any of the $1.4 billion to cover the shortfall.

“I can tell you that the hospitals want a third of it. I can tell you that state government, in terms of overtime and things, needs another part of it. I can tell you that not-for-profits need a third of it. I can tell you, if we’re going to do the testing we need to do, that takes a third of it. I can keep going, but you can see the nature of the hole that we’re trying to balance right now,” Lamont said.

Joined by Democratic U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy at a news conference in Hartford, the three spoke of the dire need for the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate to pass the next massive COVID-19 relief bill, which is still being negotiated.

Connecticut gained 73,300 jobs in June, the largest single-month gain in jobs on record, but the state’s labor commissioner warned Thursday the state’s employment situation remains volatile because of the pandemic and at least 3,000 applications for unemployment compensation are still being filed daily.

Department of Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby said the average number of weekly claimants receiving benefits has remained at about 300,000 a month in recent weeks, while the specific individuals are changing.

“So people are going on, people are going off,” he said during a conference call with reporters. “This I think is going to be the new normal for a while. And if the coronavirus peaks again, we’re going to be seeing significant closures again and those numbers are going to go up. So we think this is volatile. We think this is a new normal, relatively for the indefinite future in terms of high unemployment rate.”


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