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COVID warning is serious, Lamont's options shrinking

Gov. Ned Lamont has shown strong leadership in dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak and has largely struck a sensible balance between the need to protect public health and the desire to limit damage to the economy and the finances of Connecticut citizens.

However, as Connecticut and the nation deal with the predicted second wave of viral spread, there are reasons to be concerned. The governor is arguably taking too risky a gamble in not heeding the recommendations of doctors, who say they are seeing ominous signs that the health crisis may overwhelm their ability to handle it.

“The rapid increase in admissions and severity of illness that we are seeing here in the ICU and the wards is incredibly concerning,” states the letter delivered to the governor and signed by 42 doctors and one registered nurse associated with the Yale New Haven Health system and the Yale School of Medicine.

Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London and Westerly Hospital are part of the Yale New Haven Health network. L+M and Westerly reported Monday they were treating 39 and 16 COVID-19 patients, respectively, all-time highs since the pandemic began.

In their letter, the doctors urge Lamont to act now and temporarily shut down indoor dining, gyms and all unnecessary public gatherings.

“Based on what we know about the epidemiology of COVID-19,” states the letter, these steps “would protect our citizens from this lethal disease, keep our hospitals and caregivers from being overwhelmed, and save lives.”

Lamont, thus far, is resisting such a move. His reluctance is understandable. It would place thousands out of work, many of whom are already struggling paycheck to paycheck. Some restaurants and gyms may not survive another shutdown if it dragged on long. The economic damage would be significant. And it would all arrive in the midst of the holiday season.

Meanwhile, Congress remains stalemated over providing another stimulus package. The lame-duck president is no help, preoccupied with his fraudulent claims of a fraudulent election, seemingly indifferent to spiking COVID-19 infections and deaths, and to the plight of the emotionally and physically drained health workers left to deal with it.

On Monday, Lamont said his inclination is to wait and monitor the situation and adjust as needed, placing trust in Connecticut citizens to make safe and smart choices.

But if the governor is going to act, now is the time. Families gathered for Thanksgiving meals. Children returned from colleges. Some heeded the warnings to keep the get-togethers small and within the immediate family, but not all did so. Doctors know any viral spread from those gatherings is happening now and indoor dining, gyms and other public gatherings can enable that spread.

The letter from the doctors is sobering. It contends reports of “dramatic advances” in COVID care are overblown.

“While our understanding of COVID has certainly improved, there are very few new therapies, and the benefits are modest,” it states.

And as intensive-care beds fill up and staffs are stretched thin, the ability to save lives diminishes. A trickle-down effect reduces the capability to treat non-COVID patients as even operating rooms are filled.

“We are already spilling outside of our ICUs, calling for extra volunteers, and we are exhausting the supply of advance-practice nurses and medical residents who help us provide best-possible care,” the doctors and RN state. “At the current pace, we will soon fill up all our hospital floor beds within 7-14 days.”

“Any actions that can be taken to prevent the admissions that we will see one, two or three weeks from now are incredibly important to ensure that we can save more lives than we did in the spring,” the doctors write.

This week the state learned its COVID-related death toll had surpassed 5,000. An effective vaccine is on the horizon, but still several months away for most citizens. That a vaccine is so close makes every COVID-related death now only more tragic.

Lamont faces an agonizing, no-win choice. But given this warning, he may well find he has no option but to act aggressively, as he did in the spring, to curb the viral spread.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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