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New London reports 2 new COVID-19 cases; state records 27 more deaths

In the 20 hours between 4 p.m. Wednesday and noon Thursday, Connecticut recorded another 27 deaths associated with COVID-19, the pandemic disease that continues to exact a heavy toll.

As of Thursday, the number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the disease totaled 3,824, an increase of 267 over the previous day. New London County's total held steady at 29, with no new cases reported by noon — a circumstance a state official said may have had to do with reporting times. "I wouldn't make much out of it," said Av Harris, director of communications and legislative affairs for the state Department of Public Health.

On Thursday evening, however, New London Mayor Michael Passero said Ledge Light Health District had reported two additional COVID-19 cases in the city, both female. The ages were not immediately available.   

One hundred seventy-four of the cases in the state involved residents whose addresses had yet to be verified.

New London County has had one death related to the virus, that of a 43-year-old Norwich man.

Thursday's data showed 827 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in the state, including nine in New London County — one fewer than reported the previous day. Doctors at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London and with Hartford HealthCare, which includes Backus Hospital in Norwich, said L+M and Backus had five and four patients, respectively.

Dr. Kevin Torres, L+M's associate chief medical officer, said Westerly Hospital had four COVID-19 patients. An L+M spokesman said he was unable to confirm the number of L+M and Westerly Hospital staff members who have tested positive for the disease but that those who have are being quarantined at home "for the appropriate amount of time."

The state also reported Thursday that the State Public Health Laboratory has tested a total of 2,260 patients for COVID-19, with 453, or 20%, testing positive. Including tests conducted by hospital and commercial laboratories, a total of more than 18,300 tests have been conducted.

Gov. Ned Lamont, at his daily coronavirus update at the state Capitol, cited the "enormous difference" between the spread of the disease in Washington state and New York City, evidence of the effect of social distancing and other recommended measures. He said he was issuing an executive order that would limit intrastate travel by only allowing hotels and short-term rentals to provide lodging for essential workers, "not leisure travel, not vacationers."

He said the order would be effective Friday.

Renee Coleman-Mitchell, the state's public health commissioner, joined Lamont at Thursday's briefing and reported that as of Wednesday, 57 of the state's 215 nursing homes had COVID-19 patients. The elderly are particularly vulnerable, with the vast majority of deaths associated with the disease occurring among those 70 and older.

Coleman-Mitchell said the state was looking to segregate the COVID-19 "positives" from the "negatives," and has identified five nursing homes in the state that will receive infected patients.

Unemployment claims surge; federal aid on the way

Lamont addressed the pandemic's effect on the state economy and the relief the federal government's response will provide. "We were prepared for a lot, but nobody's prepared for the scale of what we've confronted in the last couple of months," he said.

While the state processed 180,000 unemployment claims in the previous fiscal year, it's been deluged with 220,000 claims in the last 18 days alone and has struggled to keep up, the governor acknowledged.

He said the $2 trillion aid package approved by Congress and signed by the president will provide some relief for residents and small businesses, with payment of $1,200 per individual, $2,400 for couples and $500 per child expected to go out by April 17. Payments for paid sick leave for workers are available now, he said.

A state Office of Fiscal Analysis review of the federal aid package's $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund indicates Connecticut's share will be about $1.4 billion. The money is meant to reimburse states for expenses incurred in fighting the virus from March 1 to Dec. 30, 2020, and not to offset revenue losses related to the economic downturn.

For southeastern Connecticut, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, on Thursday announced the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded two federal grants totaling more than $1 million to the cities of New London and Norwich to aid in the pandemic response.

New London will receive $514,725 and Norwich $506,569, flexible funding aimed at supporting infectious disease response in low-income and vulnerable communities. Examples of eligible activities include everything from construction of testing and rehabilitation facilities to providing grants or loans to businesses.

The new federal funding comes less than a week after the House of Representatives voted to pass the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which authorized $5 billion for HUD's Community Development Block Grant program. Both grant awards were disbursed through HUD's CDBG program.

New London Mayor Michael Passero said he expects some of the money will help programs already designed by the city to assist the small businesses suffering right now.

"I have an incredible staff who are working really hard to make sure that working people, families, and small businesses in New London have the resources they need right now," he said in a statement. "No one has offered any resources to this point, so it's a great morale boost to have these dollars coming to support our work and our community. We're indebted to Congressman Courtney for his efforts to get this first round of resources to us."

"We're certainly grateful for the additional support," Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom said. Nystrom said his city is incurring additional expenses in response to the COVID-19 emergency and, as conditions change daily, it's difficult to plan a response. He said the city would consult with the Uncas Health District and local health care providers, as well as the city's community development office for recommendations on how to use the additional block grant money.

There is $11.9 million in federal grant money additionally earmarked for aid to Connecticut's homeless population — to be used to operate and build more emergency shelters, provide motel vouchers and help pay for child care, education services, outreach, employment assistance and outpatient health services, among other things. New London is slated to receive $874,972 and Norwich $861,120, a statement from HUD shows.

The governor announced that a special meeting of the State Bond Commission will be held Wednesday to act on a number of critical items related to the coronavirus response.

Although the state faces a growing deficit in the current fiscal year that ends June 30, and a much larger deficit the following fiscal year, the state has the wherewithal to get through it, Lamont said.

Day Staff Writers Greg Smith and Claire Bessette contributed to this report.


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