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Norwich man in his 40s dies of COVID-19; new cases emerge throughout New London County

Sixteen Connecticut residents died in the past 24 hours due to COVID-19 — including a Norwich man in his 40s — the state's worst death toll in a single day so far.

That brings the total coronavirus-related fatalities in the state to 69. That includes an additional 17 deaths not previously reported in daily state numbers released by the governor’s office; they were reported to the state medical examiner, not the state Department of Public Health, hence the lag, state Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe said Tuesday.

The Uncas Health District announced the death of the Norwich man Tuesday and said it was the first coronavirus-related fatality in its jurisdiction, which includes Bozrah, Franklin, Griswold, Lebanon, Montville, Norwich, Preston, Salem, Sprague and Voluntown.

New cases of the virus have surfaced in four eastern Connecticut towns as well as a prison and at submarine builder Electric Boat, the company's president announced Tuesday.

"It is with sadness today that I am confirming the first death of a person within the Uncas Health District due to severe complications from COVID-19," Patrick McCormack, the district's director of health, said in a statement. "The patient had recently been admitted to the hospital, where he was receiving treatment."

Mayor Peter Nystrom confirmed that the man died at the Backus Hospital, where he had been since at least March 21. On that date, the Backus president, Donna Handley, informed employees that the hospital was treating its first COVID-19 patient. At the time, Nystrom said the man being treated was a 43-year-old truck driver who was married and had at least one young child. The family was quarantining at home, he said.

McCormack said the Uncas Health District continues to promote social distancing as the best way to slow the spread of the virus. "This heartbreaking news is a reminder to community members that it is imperative to be proactive and continue efforts to distance themselves from others," he said.

Gov. Ned Lamont said during Tuesday’s briefing that Connecticut has the fourth most COVID-19 infections per capita in the country, behind New York, New Jersey and Louisiana, which is why he continues to “press on” the federal government to think about this outbreak by region, rather than state by state.

As of Tuesday evening, Connecticut had 3,128 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 608 people hospitalized with the disease. Another 1,000 people were tested for the virus in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of tests administered to 15,600.

Lamont said modeling shows that the virus “will continue to move in an aggressive way” for another two to three weeks. "April will be a horrible month.”

Cases in New London, Preston, Montville, Stonington

Mayor Michael Passero on Tuesday confirmed a third New London case of COVID-19, a 26-year-old female. It follows one reported case in the city over the weekend, details of which were not made public.

In Stonington, First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough said Tuesday that Ledge Light Health District told her four more residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, one of whom had been transported to the hospital on Monday. No information was available about the patients. The town had two confirmed cases previous to this.

Preston First Selectwoman Sandra Allyn-Gauthier reported her town's first case on Monday. She said the person is between 30 and 40 years old, has not been hospitalized and does not live in a long-term care facility.

"We have been expecting for some time that a Preston resident would become infected with COVID-19, so hopefully this does not come as a surprise," Allyn-Gauthier wrote in a note on the town's website. "Town officials, first responders and Uncas Health District staff have been working closely to plan and prepare for the presence of COVID-19." She urged residents to continue practicing social distancing, washing their hands and all other precautionary measures recommended by health and state officials.

She said the town is working with Uncas Health District on best practices for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Preston just joined the health district this fiscal year, a move that proved "very timely," she said. Updates are being posted on the town website, preston-ct.org.

Uncas Health District Director McCormack said Tuesday the district's protocol is to contact the patient and identify people he or she has been in direct contact with recently and review Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols on how long to self-quarantine and monitor for symptoms.

Ledge Light Health District declined to release information to The Day related to people testing positive to COVID-19. Its Director of Health Stephen Mansfield said in an email that when LLHD becomes aware of a new case, the chief executive officer and emergency medical director of the municipality are notified of the age and gender of the patient.

"We conduct follow-up investigations, including contact tracing, as appropriate," he wrote. "We do not provide any additional information on cases, as that information is confidential. We no longer issue press releases, because it should be assumed that all individuals may be infected with COVID-19."

The employee at EB's Groton headquarters who tested positive has not been in the shipyard since March 9, President Kevin Graney announced in a companywide memo Tuesday evening.

"The individual has been recuperating at home and felt better on March 17. A test for COVID 19 was administered on March 19 and the results of that test were provided this afternoon," Graney said. "We appreciate that this individual stayed home and put the health and welfare of their teammates first when they were not feeling well. We are evaluating our medical protocol to determine when this individual will be allowed to return to work."

Graney had told employees Monday that 48 workers had been tested for COVID-19, and of those 16 had received results, all negative. The company has about 17,000 employees.

The Connecticut National Guard announced Tuesday night that two members of the service have tested positive for the disease, its first cases. A male airman between 20 and 30 years old and in the 103rd Airlift Wing of East Granby tested positive Friday, and a female soldier between 40 and 50 years old, who is assigned to Joint Force Headquarters and works in Middletown, tested positive Saturday. The airman is hospitalized, the announcement said, while the soldier is self-monitoring symptoms at home.

"The Connecticut Military Department continues to monitor the situation and known contacts in their work areas. We have conducted appropriate deep cleaning of their work areas and have implemented aggressive force health protection measures to protect our Soldiers, Airmen, Civilians, and Families," the announcement said. The department also has authorized "Virtual Drill" for members to continue to receive training through distance learning.

The state Department of Correction announced that a second inmate at Corrigan-Radgowski, a 24-year-old man housed in the Corrigan section of the facility, had tested positive for the virus. According to a news release, he began exhibiting symptoms associated with COVID-19 on Thursday and was isolated from the rest of the facility's population. He subsequently was tested, and a positive result was confirmed.

His cellmate was tested for the virus, along with eight other inmates who were possibly exposed, and the department is awaiting results. A review of which staff members the ill man interacted with has been conducted and proper notifications are being made.

It was the second confirmed case in two days at the Montville prison, which has been placed on lockdown. DOC will continue to assess the developing situation and revise its operational plans appropriately, Commissioner Rollin Cook said.

"We are resolute in the belief that the department's mitigation efforts, along with the efforts of our incredible staff, will allow us to weather this storm," he said. "We continue to release offenders in a responsible fashion so as not to overwhelm community resources. Within our facilities the DOC provides shelter, nutrition, counseling and (health care). Many offenders would not have access to these essentials in the community."

The Department of Public Health is the repository for information regarding cases statewide; visit bit.ly/CTCV19.

Lawrence + Memorial Hospital was treating five COVID-19 patients Tuesday, and Westerly Hospital was treating another four, according to Dr. Kevin Torres, L+M’s associate chief medical officer. L+M had reported having seven COVID-19 patients Monday but that number included patients at Westerly Hospital, a hospital spokesman said.

The spokesman said the hospital would not comment on whether two people brought to New London from Fishers Island last Friday and transported to L+M are among those being treated for COVID-19.

Torres said “a few” L+M health care workers have tested positive for the disease. He said L+M’s drive-up specimen-collection station, which opened two weeks ago, has taken samples from 550 patients and 22 have tested positive. He did not say how many results were pending.

Dr. Ajay Kumar, Hartford HealthCare’s chief clinical officer, said that as of Tuesday morning, his system was treating 120 COVID-19 patients as well as 98 others awaiting test results. Of those 218 patients, he said, 92 were being ventilated.

“We’re still preparing for the peak,” which the latest modeling predicts will come between April 15 and 30, he said. “A lot depends on social distancing. ... If you’re sick and can manage yourself at home, please do so.”

Kumar said Hartford HealthCare’s efforts to ramp up testing have been hampered by a shortage of materials, particularly the “transport media” in which samples are placed for shipment to laboratories.

Lamont said at his briefing Tuesday that he feels like "a general sending troops into battle without the proper gear they deserve."

Financial relief

Lamont also announced on Tuesday that his administration has reached an agreement with more than 60 financial institutions in the state, both credit unions and banks, to provide a 90-day grace period for mortgage payments for those who've experienced financial hardship, such as loss of a job or decrease in income, due to the pandemic. Those who take advantage of this grace period would not see their credit scores affected, he said.

Lamont also announced that these institutions will not start any foreclosures or evictions over the next 60 days.

State Banking Commissioner Jorge Perez said it will take several days for the agreement to fully take effect.

The Department of Banking will publish a list of participating financial institutions on its website, portal.ct.gov/dob, in coming days.

Day Staff Writers Karen Florin, Joe Wojtas and Greg Smith contributed to this report.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

c.bessette@theday.com

j.bergman@theday.com







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