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State advisory group says vulnerable populations need continuing care during pandemic

Members of the group that helped Gov. Ned Lamont formulate a plan to safely reopen the state following the coronavirus shutdown say it's important to continue providing meal delivery, health care and other services to vulnerable populations, like seniors and disabled people, who remain homebound or in group settings.

During a virtual meeting Thursday, Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group members touched on the importance of also providing care to the caregivers of at-risk people, including home health and personal care aides and unpaid family caregivers, and to front-line workers such as security guards who are now tasked with taking temperatures and enforcing social distancing requirements. 

The voluntary advisory group disbanded after the first phase of a four-phase reopening of the state occurred on May 20, but members made themselves available for a roundtable discussion moderated by Lamont's communication director, Max Reiss.

The state reported that as of 4 p.m. Thursday, 271 additional people had tested positive for COVID-19 during the past 24 hours, bringing Connecticut's total to 41,559, and an additional 23 had died of related illness, for a total of 3,826 deaths. Testing continued to expand in the state, with 5,756 people swabbed in the past day for a total of 235,525 tests performed.

New London County has reported 1,067 cases of the virus and 83 deaths since the pandemic began. As of Thursday, nine COVID-19 patients were being treated at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and two at Westerly Hospital.

The advisory group discussed the importance of providing personal protective equipment, testing for COVID-19, health insurance, hazard pay and wellness support to those working with at-risk populations as the pandemic continues, and of continuing state, local and regional collaborations that were born of necessity to reach those who need help.

"During this pandemic, many of our city halls and town halls have been flooded with calls from the elderly, from people with family members incarcerated, people who need help with unemployment," said Mike Freda, first selectman of North Haven. He said it's important to have a robust "vertically integrated model" for providing services, with the state government at the top, regional government in the middle and local government at the ground level.

The state chapter of the AARP also has been receiving a lot of calls from members and nonmembers, said Nora Duncan, state director, with most of the calls being from people concerned about their loved ones who are just getting by staying at home, and who need care and how that happens during social distancing and isolating. 

"We need to make sure the systems stay in place for when you're not going out to the senior center, and you can't get to the grocery store," she said. "What do we do to make sure people maintain their independence and can stay at home?"

Meal delivery remains crucial for many, and the group talked about using technology to alleviate the isolation that many are feeling. 

Rochelle Palache, assistant district leader for Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, said the union has lost six members statewide and 120 members unionwide to the virus.

"Our workers are security officers, janitors, maintenance workers who have continued to work," she said. "If they're essential, let's make sure they're actually working in an environment that values it, that they don't have to take home a virus that's still dominant, still happening, to their family members."

If they do contract COVID-19 at work, Palache said members, including more than 100 undocumented immigrants who pay taxes but have received no economic relief during the pandemic, should receive adequate compensation and access to decent health care.

"Public health has to be paramount," she said.


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