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Updated: State, region prepare for coronavirus; New York woman who works at Conn. hospitals has illness

Norwich — State and local officials met Friday in southeastern Connecticut to discuss strategies against the COVID-19, short for coronavirus disease 2019

Later in the day, Gov. Ned Lamont announced on Twitter that a New York resident who works for Danbury Hospital and Norwalk Hospital has a confirmed case of the illness. There still have been no confirmed cases in Connecticut itself, Department of Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell said during a news briefing in Danbury that began at 7:30 p.m. Officials urged the public not to panic.

Two of Connecticut's largest hospitals instituted a furlough for some workers and took other precautionary measures after an employee who lives in New York tested positive for the coronavirus.

Lamont, joined by hospital and local officials, said Friday that the woman was in self-quarantine in New York's Westchester County.

Officials with Danbury Hospital and Norwalk Hospital, which are part of the same hospital network, said the woman had been notified earlier in the week that she was among those who may have come into contact with someone in New York who had the virus, and had been away from the workplace since then awaiting testing results, which came back Friday.

Lamont said the hospital had identified anyone the woman has had contact with over the last couple of days, and put them on furlough and were being monitored.

Officials did not provide the occupation of the woman.

Kerry Eaton, chief operating officer of Nuvance Health, said the woman worked in an isolated area in the hospitals, coming in contact with limited numbers of patients.

"We believe it was contained because it was a very limited geographic area in both of the hospitals," Eaton said.

As of Friday morning, 12 people had been tested with 11 more to go, Coleman-Mitchell said shortly after 2 p.m. She acknowledged at that time, "It's probably more by now."

She and State Epidemiologist Matt Cartter emphasized that public health officials are moving from containment to mitigation, meaning the focus has shifted from travel and border concerns to interventions meant to slow the transmission of the virus.

Mitigation involves self-monitoring, their preferred term over the word "quarantine."

For travelers returning from a Level 3 country, one the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies as high-risk, Cartter said self-monitoring involves staying home for 14 days and calling a doctor or local health department if a person becomes ill.

If or when there is sustained community transmission in the U.S., Cartter said there needs to be discussion of social distancing, or urging people to maintain physical distance from one another to reduce the risk of spreading germs; closure of schools; and cancellation of large events. But Coleman-Mitchell said the risk for U.S. citizens is low.

Coleman-Mitchell and Cartter called in to a roundtable discussion that U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, held at The William W. Backus Hospital on Friday afternoon with more than 20 representatives of hospitals, health districts, community health centers and southeastern Connecticut's two Native American tribes, the Mohegans and Mashantucket Pequots.

Coleman-Mitchell said Quest Diagnostics will be doing testing, noting that the state lab does not have the resources to do all the necessary testing going forward. The company has several locations in southeastern Connecticut.

Cartter said the "real limiting factor" for testing is not the actual tests but where the tests can be done, since it wouldn't be safe for a doctor to do a throat swab on someone who might have coronavirus if the doctor doesn't have appropriate protection, which is not available in most doctors' offices.

One possibility is putting up a tent in a parking lot. Cartter said testing locations still are being set up and the state eventually will have a list of sites to which doctors could refer people, so those being tested don't have to go to the emergency room.

Another issue is the state only has one kit, which equals 600 tests, and so Lamont has written to the federal government asking for more resources, Coleman-Mitchell said.

Courtney on Friday gave a breakdown of the $8.3 billion coronavirus aid package President Donald Trump signed Friday morning but noted there are issues the funding does not touch on, such as insurance coverage for testing.

Coleman-Mitchell said she was informed Thursday that Connecticut is receiving $7 million, on top of a previously approved $500,000 for lab and surveillance activities. She is waiting for clarification from the federal government on what the state can and can't do with those funds.

Courtney and others spoke enthusiastically about telehealth services, or allowing people to communicate with their doctors remotely via video calls.

United Community & Family Services President Jennifer Granger said she asked the Connecticut Department of Social Services commissioner to allow health centers like UCFS to be paid for telehealth services under Medicaid, which is not currently allowed.

Dr. Michael Grey, chairman of medicine at Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford, asked about making sure skilled nursing facilities are included in coronavirus conversations, and about access to personal protective equipment.

Voicing concern about the ability of police officers, firefighters and paramedics to keep themselves safe, Connecticut Emergency Management Association Chief Michael Spera wants the federal government to start sending some of its stockpile of protective equipment to Connecticut.

Linda Colangelo of the Northeast District Department of Health asked if there was any funding earmarked "for families who will suffer immeasurable losses if it comes to parents not being able to go to work."

Courtney stressed that the package Trump signed Friday "is not the final word" and there is "meat left on the bone," and financial loss will be part of future discussions in Congress.

People with general coronavirus questions can call the recently launched hotline at 211.

Blumenthal meets with health district, public safety officials in New London

Also on Friday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., met with Mayor Michael Passero, public health officials and first responders at Ledge Light Health District in New London.

Blumenthal said with the aid package, money should start flowing into Connecticut for education, training, equipment and more test kits.

Stephen Mansfield, director of health for the health district, said local health entities are tracking residents who have traveled to China to ensure they are monitoring themselves for signs of illness.

Ledge Light has been conducting forums and educational sessions in each of the 10 municipalities it serves and meeting with officials from school districts, school systems and other groups about measures to be taken should a resident test positive.

"As the epidemic progresses and eventually comes to Connecticut, we will work to implement mitigation efforts, which may include social distancing measures, canceling non-essential mass gatherings and eventually setting up mass-vaccination clinics," Mansfield said.

A vaccine is still a year off, he said, and another battle is misinformation.

"I can't emphasize enough how important it is to get your information from a reputable source like the CDC or the National Institutes for Health," he said. "The amount of misinformation we see is amazing."

e.moser@theday.com

g.smith@theday.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Editor's Note: This version corrects that there still have been no confirmed cases in Connecticut itself.

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