State: Without action, CT could see thousands of coronavirus deaths
Connecticut moved closer to a full shutdown of public gatherings on Thursday in an attempt to slow the inevitable spread of the coronavirus that may infect as many as 700,000 residents over the next month and, according to the state epidemiologist, as much as 70 percent of the population if it erupts again in the autumn.
Those numbers of people ill with COVID-19 are not a prediction, but they could happen if the disease follows the same arc as the seasonal flu, Dr. Matthew Cartter, the veteran state epidemiologist, said at a news briefing at the state’s emergency operations center.
And that could mean thousands of deaths in Connecticut, based on the apparent mortality rate of the illness — although Cartter stopped short of forecasting deaths.
Measures the state is taking are designed to prevent those deaths.
On Thursday, Gov. Ned Lamont issued executive orders banning public gatherings of more than 250 people, and allowing public school systems to fall short of the 180 days required for state funding. At least 19 school systems and virtually all the state’s colleges and universities have closed, piggybacking on spring breaks and delaying — for at least a couple weeks — decisions on reopening.
Two new cases of infection in Connecticut were reported Thursday: a pupil aged five-to-10 in Stratford’s Wilcoxson School and a Stamford womanTuesday with symptoms, according to the state Department of Public Health.
State courts suspended jury trials that were not already underway, for 30 days. And the state Capitol, already closed Thursday and Friday for cleaning, was closed until March 30 — delaying legislative business.
Grim numbers possible
Cartter, speaking alongside Lamont and other officials in the William A. O’Neill State Armory in Hartford, predicted that 10-to-20 percent of the state’s 3.6 million people could become infected over the next month, if the virus follows the patterns of most seasonal influenza bugs. No one knows how likely that pattern is to happen, and some afflicted people may barely feel sick.
“When this is all over, probably about 70 percent of our population will have had this infection. And this is between this wave and if there is a fall wave, a second wave that we see in the fall. Because this is a virus that none of us has immunity to,” Cartter told reporters. “Right now, we’re trying to slow that down.”
No state official is predicting deaths. Here’s how the numbers shake out: If 10 percent to 20 percent of the population falls ill from COVID-19, the midpoint of that number is 540,000.
What does that mean for deaths? The mortality rate from the virus is impossible to know, but it , Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease official in the National Institutes of Health, told Congress.
Early reports from China五福彩票注册送15元 had a number closer to 2 percent or even higher. In South Korea, the death rate is closer to one-half of 1 percent.
One percent of that 540,000 would be 5,400 Connecticut residents. Implausible? We’ve yet to see a death but some number of victims is viewed as inevitable.
Connecticut can lose as many as 500 people to influenza in a bad season — and COVID-19 is considered to be 10 times as lethal.
“I’m not predicting deaths at this point,” Cartter said, but he did not refute the possibility that Connecticut could see thousands of deaths this spring alone.
Changing by the day
The promising news is that seemingly extreme measures such as canceling winter high school sports tournaments and banning gatherings of more than 250 people — no more than 100 people if possible, Lamont said Thursday — could significantly reduce the incidence of COVID-19.
We also have far more advanced medical care than most places in the world, and than at any time in the past, Lamont said.
And, as the number of people with COVID-19 rises, it’s entirely possible the death rate will fall precipitously, experts say. That’s partly because the number with the disease might be far greater now than we realize, because Connecticut had only tested 96 people by Thursday.
The clear message is that Fairfield County is the nexus of the pandemic in Connecticut. Of the five confirmed cases, four patients live in Fairfield County and one is in Litchfield County. Cartter expects infections to next move into New Haven County, as well as the virus moving across borders from Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
“This is something that is going to change day by day,” Cartter said.
A sixth positive test result was for a man treated at Greenwich Hospital who is a New York resident.
School waivers, crowd bans
The governor said the state is waiving the 180-day requirement for schools, meaning they’re able to close without worrying about making up those days at the end of the year. Lamont said it’s going to be a “statewide waiver” for schools, but he stopped short of calling for a statewide or even county-wide order — which he could do under the emergency declarations he signed this week.
“We haven’t had to” decide to close schools across the state, Lamont said, praising local officials for making decisions to close the schools where needed — including most school systems in Fairfield County.
So far, 19 school systems have or will soon close, according to Miguel Cardona, commissioner of the Department of Education. Many schools across the state, including colleges, have opted to move all classes online amid concerns of the spread of coronavirus.
“We do not want any more gatherings with more than 250 people and that’s going to be an executive order,” Lamont said. “This is highly contagious — COVID-19.” It’s unclear how and whether the state would enforce that order.
He said he is personally recommending people stay away from gatherings of more than 100 people.
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Easing the pain
Lamont said he is working with the congressional delegation to talk about unemployment compensation and adding other benefits for people who must stay 五福彩票注册送15元, or who lose hours of work. “Maybe they’re living paycheck to paycheck, they’re hourly workers, what types of protections will there be for them?”
He asked Beth Bye, a former state senator from West Hartford who’s commissioner of early childhood, to expand daycare to meet the needs of working parents as schools close — including, Lamont said, faster approval of on-site daycare at those workplaces that are remaining open.
He said David Lehman, his economic and community development commissioner, is working with companies, banks and the federal government to help disrupted businesses with Small Business Administration loans or other forms of aid. He referred to possible legislation, which could be a problem as, later Thursday, the leaders of the General Assembly closed the Capitol for the next two weeks.
“We don’t know whether this is going to be one month or two months,” Lamont said. “But we’re planning for the future.”
He also promised at least a 90-day extension for DMV license renewals to limit the amount of people having to risk potential exposure by waiting on lines.
More testing coming
Cartter emphasized the importance of testing during the worst viral outbreak since the influenza epidemic of 1918. “None of us have been through anything like this in 100 years,” he said.
The state testing lab can handle 40 to 60 tests per day, Cartter said, up from less than half that number just a few days ago. Beyond that, the state is looking to private labs and hospitals to bring more tests online.
That includes Greenwich Hospital, which is sending samples for testing out of state. And Cartter said “four or five” more are far along toward their own testing protocols. “We expect that Yale-New Haven Hospital will be the first online in the next few days,” Cartter said.
Some people have worried about the virus lingering on surfaces and used drink bottles. Although the virus generally survives for just a day or a few hours outside of a host body, “This virus or fragments of this virus can be found hours to several days afterwards,” Cartter said, adding that fragments are not the entire virus. “Cleaning and disinfecting will kill this virus.”
Lamont took a long and broad view in addition to focusing on details.
“There’s a lot of talk about 1918,” Lamont said. “There’s a lot of talk about where this could go. I think you should understand there are some real differences here. We’re paying attention to this. We’ve learned from China五福彩票注册送15元. We’ve learned from Italy and we’re taking real efforts right now to make sure we hold down and contain this the best we can. Anybody who’s feeling ill, not feeling where they ought to be, they should stay 五福彩票注册送15元. That’s one way we can contain this.”