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Connecticut reports 3rd COVID-19 death, delays primary

A third Connecticut resident has died from coronavirus, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday, and the number of confirmed cases in the state rose to 159.

Two of the three deaths were men from New Canaan. One was described as being in his 80s. The other was a 91-year-old who died at Norwalk Hospital. Lamont said the latter was "a great friend of my father."

"So I know what people are feeling every day," he said. "This is a disease that gets more real in a very personal way."

The first person to die from the disease was an 88-year-old from Ridgefield. The man died at Danbury Hospital after falling ill at an assisted living facility in his hometown.

Lamont on Thursday also postponed Connecticut's presidential primary until June 2.

"In coordination with other states and our secretary of the state, and in an effort to carry out democracy while keeping public health a top priority, I have decided to move our presidential primary," the governor said.

State officials had been debating for days whether to postpone the state's April 28 primary to accommodate the ban on large public gatherings. Although the primary date is set in state law, Lamont has authority under his public health emergency declaration to waive laws and regulations.

Lamont also ordered the temporary closure of nail salons, barber shops, hair salons and tattoo parlors across Connecticut.

The governor last week mandated that all bars, restaurants, movie theaters, concert halls and other venues with large crowds shut their doors until further notice. Restaurants and bars may remain open to fulfill takeout orders only, including the sale of alcoholic beverages in sealed containers. The casinos agreed to close down for two weeks.

At least 24 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, the disease caused by the newest strain of coronavirus.

On Wednesday, health staffers were dispatched to Stafford Springs to investigate the first confirmed case in a nursing home.

The patient, a resident of the Evergreen Health Center, was hospitalized at Johnson Memorial Hospital. The person had been in a short-term unit that has since been quarantined, according to Tim Brown, a spokesman for Athena Health Care Systems, the owner of the 180-bed nursing home.

It was not clear how long the patient had been at Evergreen. Brown said the company has been restricting visitors and following the other precautions urged by the state.

Renee Coleman-Mitchell, the state's public health commissioner, said the state is "closely watching" two others from the facility.

State lawmaker diagnosed

A member of the Democratic caucus in the Connecticut House of Representatives has tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said Thursday.

Rep. Jane Garibay, D-Windsor, emailed her colleagues Thursday night confirming the news that began circulating hours earlier: The coronavirus has arrived in the Connecticut General Assembly.

"Unfortunately I have tested positive for COVID 19," wrote Garibay, 64, a freshman. "I wanted to let you know that I am self quarantining and resting comfortably at home. Thank you for all the well wishes, and I look forward to when we can all be together again."

Garibay had attended the March 11 session, the day before the General Assembly suspended work and closed the State Capitol, but public health officials declined after interviewing her to recommend that her colleagues self-quarantine, Aresimowicz said.

“They felt there was no need for a 14-day quarantine,” Aresimowicz said. The decision, he said, was based on when she became symptomatic and was tested.

Lawmakers and legislative staffers were notified of the diagnosis of an unidentified colleague.

Garibay is in a risk group for complications from the disease and had asked for privacy, another lawmaker said.

Meanwhile, Aresimowicz said legislative leaders have been in preliminary talks about how the the 151-member House might conduct business if it needs to return for business while the state is under an order to avoid public gatherings of more than 50.

Debates would be difficult, but lawmakers might agree to having “just a handful on each side” in the chamber at any one time, requiring an unprecedented choreography. The voting machine could be left open for hours, allowing lawmakers to enter and vote alone or in small groups.

“It’s more ideas than anything else,” Aresimowicz said.

Unemployment claims continue weeklong surge

The state Department of Labor continued to receive unemployment claims at unprecedented levels Thursday, topping 14,000, according to department spokesman Steve Jensen.

This completes a historic week for the department. Officials received 2,000 claims on Friday, 8,000 over the weekend, 10,000 each on Monday and Tuesday, and 12,000 on Wednesday.

Deputy Labor Commissioner Daryle Dudzinski told The CT Mirror that just a few weeks ago, before most coronavirus-related closures had happened, the department had been receiving roughly 3,000 new jobless claims per week.

Jackson Laboratory begins testing

Officials with the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington said Thursday they would begin processing coronavirus tests next week.

The lab expects to handle 100 to 150 tests per day. It will add staff and equipment to help boost the number of tests per day over time.

"This will increase the testing capability available here and is vitally important to diagnose affected patients as quickly as possible, which is essential in controlling the pandemic in our communities," said Charles Lee, scientific director at Jackson Laboratory.

People seeking a test should not come to the lab, he said. Instead, they should contact their primary care doctor or local hospital for guidance on where to report.

Yale New Haven Hospital and some private labs, including one in Montville, have joined the state lab in processing samples recently, bolstering testing efforts that started out very limited. The state lab initially was only able to handle 20 tests per day.

Lamont's administration said Wednesday that about 700 tests had been processed here since the beginning of the outbreak.

Hospitals and other care centers have increased their capacity for sample collection recently, with many adding drive-through programs or erecting tents or other temporary structures to handle swabbing.

The following hospitals are collecting specimen for coronavirus testing: Bridgeport Hospital, Bristol Hospital, Charlotte Hungerford Hospital, Danbury Hospital, Greenwich Hospital, Hartford Hospital, St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, Manchester Memorial Hospital, Midstate Medical Center, Stamford Hospital, St. Mary's Hospital, Waterbury Hospital, Yale New Haven Hospital, and Johnson Memorial Hospital. The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich said it would start drive-through collection of samples for testing on Friday.

Hartford bans gatherings

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin has banned gatherings of more than 10 people in the capital city. The gatherings include community, civic and sporting events; plays or live performances; and religious, spiritual or worship meetings. The prohibition runs through April 30, but may be extended.

"Coronavirus is here in our communities, and the confirmed positive cases are only the tip of the iceberg," Bronin said. "We are issuing this emergency order to emphasize that everyone must minimize contact with others if we are going to be successful in slowing down the spread."

The mayor also said that four Hartford police officers have tested positive for COVID-19. The officers returned from a trip to Spain on March 10 and were told not to report to work for 14 days. During that time, they tested positive for the virus.

A fifth officer had been in contact with one of the four. That officer has also been asked to stay home, Bronin said.

None of them appear to have significant symptoms.

"We are going to see many cases of coronavirus throughout our state and our community in the weeks ahead, but asking these officers not to return to work was the right decision, and may have significantly limited exposure ... inside the Hartford Police Department," Bronin said.

CT Mirror Reporters Mark Pazniokas and Keith M. Phaneuf contributed to this report.

Jenna Carlesso is a reporter for The Connecticut Mirror (www.ctmirror.org). Copyright 2020 © The Connecticut Mirror.

jcarlesso@ctmirror.org

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