HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont signed an order Thursday banning gatherings of 250 people or more to slow the spread of the coronavirus, while personally recommending people avoid even smaller crowds.
The Democrat’s order, which also waives the requirement that schools be in session for 180 days — giving districts flexibility with closures related to the virus — comes as additional people have tested positive in the state, including a child.
“This is highly infectious, COVID-19,” Lamont said. “I think 250 will be our limit. I’m recommending stay out of any groups of 100 or more. I just think that’s the safe way to go.”
Lamont’s order affecting large gatherings applies to social and recreational activities, including but not limited to concerts, movie screenings, performances, community events and recreational activities. The prohibition will remain in effect until April 30, unless modified by another order. Violators could face criminal penalties.
A total of six people in Connecticut have tested positive for the virus, state officials said, as more schools around Connecticut announced closures to try to slow the spread of the illness. As of Thursday afternoon, 19 districts had closed schools or are scheduled to close schools in the next day or two, according to the state’s education commission.
For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, COVID-19 can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.
State epidemiologist Matthew Cartter said Thursday he expects 10-20% of Connecticut residents could be infected in the next two months. If there’s a second wave of infections in the fall, he said 70% of the state’s population could be infected.
NURSING HOME VISITS
Lamont’s executive order eases an earlier, unpopular restriction on visits to nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
Instead of no visitors, the order allows the state’s public health commissioner to limit visits to “at least one family member, domestic partner or other person designated by the patient” each day; a patient’s attorney or conservator; Probate Court officials; and anyone authorized by law to oversee or investigate care and services in facilities.
STATE CAPITOL CLOSURE
Connecticut lawmakers were informed the state Capitol complex in Hartford will be temporarily closed until March 30 because of the latest public health information concerning the virus. In a email from House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, lawmakers were told that legislative leaders realize this will conflict with committee deadlines to act on bills and they are “contemplating ways to continue business following this suspension.” Legislative staff are being asked to work from home during the two-week period.
At a news conference earlier in the day, Lamont urged state residents to get a flu shot to stay healthy and help to ease the burden on hospitals that are bracing for patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
“We are worried about emergency rooms. They could be overrun,” said Lamont, who spoke after touring Sanofi’s Protein Sciences lab in Meriden that is conducting research for a possible vaccine for the virus.
Officials at Sanofi’s Protein Sciences said Thursday their scientists in Meriden have been working for the past several weeks on a possible COVID-19 vaccine they hope may be ready for clinical trials by the end of the year.
Dozens of research groups around the world are racing to create a vaccine as case numbers continue to grow. Some are at more advanced stages and could start first-step testing soon.
“We are at the beginning of the stages,” said Mireli Fino, the site head in Meriden. “The first stages are going as fast we can. The rest of our group is waiting and they are preparing. we’re all preparing to be ready for our next stage.”
If all goes well, some initial manufacturing would be done in Meriden, as well.
While the various researchers at work on a vaccine are pursuing different types, Fino said information is being shared among them.
The Connecticut Judicial Branch announced Thursday that all jury trials, civil and criminal — with the exception of jury trials currently in progress and trials involving defendants whose motion for a speedy trial has been granted — will be suspended for the next 30 days.
Also, all federal courts in Connecticut have delayed jury selections and trials to at least April 10. They’ve also began limiting access to courthouses to screen out “high-risk” people, include those who have traveled to China, Italy, New Rochelle and other hotspot locations within the past 14 days.
The Connecticut Department of Correction has suspended all visitation at state prisons and is barring volunteers from entering the facilities. The department also is suspending all community inmate work crews, limiting the transfer of inmates from facility to facility, and cutting back on recreation, limiting access to one housing unit at a time in each prison.
The Department said it has negotiated with its telephone provider, Securus, to allow inmates to have two free phone calls each week for the next 30 days, in an effort to mitigate the loss of visitation. There have so far been no suspected cases of COVID-19 inside any state prison.
Lamont’s executive order authorizes the Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner extend licensing renewal deadlines. The goal is to reduce large crowds at DMV branches throughout the state. The order also relaxes restrictions on certain trucks carrying relief supplies.