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Coronavirus update: Governor declares emergencies, small businesses see range of impacts

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In response to the coronavirus, Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday afternoon declared a public health emergency and a civil preparedness emergency, allowing him to order travel bans, close schools, authorize quarantines and speed up certain regulations.

The governor noted Connecticut has declared a state of emergency before, with Ebola and some hurricanes, but he doesn't do it lightly.

"I'm not worried about us overreacting. I'm proud of us being prepared," he said.

Lamont noted that in speaking with governors of states that have seen a greater impact so far, such as Washington, "they don't regret that they did too much. They always regret that they didn't do more sooner."

Related story: Connecticut courts, prisons closely watching coronavirus

The emergency declarations trigger laws against price gouging, making it illegal to raise the price of retail goods beyond what is justifiable by normal market factors, and they may allow some people to benefit from travel insurance.

Attorney General William Tong said if anyone hears about price gouging, profiteering, scams or phishing attacks related to COVID-19, they can contact his office or the Department of Consumer Protection.

The two agencies will take aggressive action against anyone "who uses this crisis as an opportunity to take advantage of people by price gouging or profiteering," Tong said, citing fines and penalties.

Two Connecticut residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, out of the 56 tested so far, Department of Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell said. There are 19 more people in the queue to be tested.

The department currently has only two people in the state lab who are doing all the testing, and they can do 19 to 20 tests per day, Coleman-Mitchell said. But the department is training seven other people and will be able to do 50 tests per day, come Monday.

Connecticut Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe said four hospitals in the state are introducing their own testing and are going through a Food and Drug Administration approval process.

Quest Diagnostics is currently only accepting samples in California, Geballe said, but Connecticut officials are trying to find out when they can begin shipping samples to LabCorp, which started offering testing Monday.

Virus prompts cancellations

Schools, municipalities and at least one business have been canceling and postponing events after public health officials advised against gatherings of 100 people or more.

Groton Public Schools canceled all large gatherings, including concerts and plays, and out-of-state travel through April 20, as a precautionary measure due to coronavirus concerns, Superintendent Michael Graner said. 

A regional professional development day scheduled for Friday also has been canceled, he said, though Groton children still will have the day off. Groton teachers will come to their school buildings to plan 10 days’ worth of online instruction and learning packets that kids could do at home, in the event that the schools need to close.

Superintendents from the region will meet Friday morning at the LEARN Regional Education Service Center in Old Lyme to coordinate efforts, Graner said.

Norwich school Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow, in a letter sent to staff and parents Tuesday, announced the cancellation of the All City Music Concert scheduled for Wednesday. She said the school messenger system will be used to announce the status of future scheduled events.

In New London, Mayor Michael Passero on Tuesday announced the postponement of the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The parade was scheduled for 1 p.m. on Sunday, March 15. A new date is under consideration but has not been scheduled.

Eastern CT’s Premier Home Show has been rescheduled from this weekend at Foxwoods Resort Casino to Sept. 19-20 because of the coronavirus, the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut announced Tuesday. 

Among Mystic small businesses, a range of impact

As this reporter walked into Mystic Pet Shop on Tuesday morning to inquire about free delivery because of the coronavirus, co-owner John Creaturo was wiping down the cash register with a Clorox wipe.

Creaturo said he is now doing this every hour, and wiping down the door.

He and his wife have found recently that elderly customers, whom he estimates make up more than half of their customers, were coming in and buying double their usual amounts, out of concern they could end up homebound.

His wife, Genevieve Triplett, decided to offer free delivery of items people might need, such as pet food and litter. It's a service the store also offered during Hurricane Sandy.

Creaturo said he will deliver "within reason of the area," that he doesn't want to drive more than a half-hour. He added that if people are sick, they can just pull into the parking lot and staff will bring their items out.

Creaturo also is concerned about his supply chain, noting that as a mom-and-pop shop, he doesn't have a warehouse and would be out of stock if he couldn't get deliveries for two or three weeks.

"Let's hope all this goes away soon. It's really not good," Creaturo said, noting that he's trying to get ready for spring in the shop.

Mystic Knotwork owner Matt Beaudoin said it's hard to measure any impact of COVID-19 this time of year, since it's the slow season in Mystic. Luckily, since he doesn't have any international suppliers, he's been fairly insulated so far.

But when the tourism season starts to ramp up after May, Beaudoin said he could see an impact based on issues that arise in other states, since his wholesale accounts are tourist destinations.

Whaler's Inn President Amanda Arling said the hotel is "definitely seeing a minor impact from specifically our corporate guests" but not from "vacationers and people wanting to come and enjoy our beautiful town."

One thing she and staff have wondered is whether they will see more in-state visitors, if Connecticut residents decide to vacation here in lieu of international travel.

"We have very strict housekeeping procedures, but on top of that just encouraging all of our staff to be very diligent in handwashing, incorporating sanitizing all public spaces in terms of door handles, et cetera," Arling said.

At the Mystic jewelry store Simply Majestic, co-owner Chuck Sneddon said the only impact of the coronavirus so far has been putting out more hand sanitizer for employees and customers, and spending more time cleaning the store. Simply Majestic has always offered delivery and has not seen any uptick in requests recently, he said.

"We haven't lost a sale because of it; we haven't gained a sale because of it," Sneddon said.

Simply Majestic has suppliers in Asia and Italy but hasn't seen any disruptions, though Sneddon has heard of others in the jewelry industry having supply issues. He said the first disruption the store has seen is that a major jewelry show that was scheduled for this weekend in New York has been canceled.

e.moser@theday.com

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