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Gov. Lamont to close schools, looking at closing restaurants, bars

Hartford — Gov. Ned Lamont announced at a news conference Sunday evening that while 90 percent of the state’s schools have closed, he would issue an executive order that will close all schools at the end of business Monday.

The closures will last at least until March 31. 

In addition, he said he has been speaking with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy about coming up with a consistent policy about how to deal with bars and restaurants, such as a closure.

“We want to do it together so people don’t cross borders,” he said.

Lamont also announced that 26 people have now tested positive in the state for COVID-19, six more than on Saturday. None of the cases are in southeastern Connecticut.

Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer, accompanied Lamont at the news conference outside the governor’s mansion and announced that the state Department of Motor Vehicles would be closing all of its branches to the public. In addition, he said, new rules will allow pharmacies to address the shortage of hand sanitizer by compounding and selling their own versions.

Lamont said he understands the impact school closings have on students and the community.

He said he hopes to soon announce a free online education module for all students while state officials are working to make sure all students have access to digital learning.

“That’s a priority so no one gets behind,” he said.

Lamont said that testing for the virus will be greatly expanded and announced the federal government would be sending 500,000 masks to the state next week.

As for telecommuting, Lamont said state employees are being told to work with their manager so they don’t have to come in to work if it is possible. He added, though, that he realizes some employees such as health care workers have to report to work, so efforts are being made to make it easier for them to get there. This includes working on increasing the availability of day care.

Lamont said he is also working with lawmakers on paid medical leave and to extend unemployment benefits for people in quarantine. Lamont said he did not want anyone feeling ill to have second thoughts about staying home because of the financial impact.

The governor acknowledged this is a tough time and people are anxious.

“But we’re going to get through this by working together,” he said.

Lamont also stressed that people avoid large groups and acknowledged that the current ban on gatherings of more than 250 is too high and should be more in the range of 150.

Geballe also announced that deadlines municipalities need to meet for their 2020-21 budgets would be extended and that entrance to nursing homes and psychiatric facilities is being strictly limited.

He said the governor has filed a disaster declaration with the federal Small Business Administration that will allow businesses and nonprofit organizations to access low-interest loans.

Geballe also suggested that instead of going out to restaurants to eat, residents can support those businesses by ordering takeout foot or purchasing gift certificates.

Office of Health Strategy Executive Director Vicki Veltri also reminded Connecticut residents that all workers who receive health insurance through their employer, become unemployed, and lose minimum essential coverage or receive COBRA — whether it is due to the COVID-19 outbreak or otherwise — qualify all year for open enrollment through AccessHealthCT, the state's health insurance marketplace. Information is at learn.accesshealthct.com/special.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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