HARTFORD, CT – Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday declared a state of emergency for Connecticut as a school district was shut down as a precautionary measure against coronavirus and events – including the remainder of the winter high school sports seasons – were being canceled across the state.
The Region 14 school district, which covers the towns of Bethlehem and Woodbury and includes four school buildings, was closed for the remainder of the week in order to disinfect the facilities. The closure followed the announcement that a second state resident had tested positive or COVID-19 – in an individual who works at Bridgeport Hospital, lives in Bethlehem and has children and grandchildren.
In a letter posted today to the Region 14 website, Superintendent Joseph Olzacki said a student at one of the schools had come in contact with a person who had tested positive for COVID-19, which is short for Coronavirus Disease 2019.
“At this time, the student and their family are healthy and showing no signs of illness,” Olzacki wrote. “They are self-monitoring at their home for 14 days in cooperation with their local health district per federal and state guidelines.”
Olzacki said that out of an abundance of caution all Region 14 school buildings were to be closed March 11 through March 15 in order to “allow all of the buildings to be deep cleaned and disinfected according to federal and state guidelines,” and no activities will be conducted in any of the school facilities for the duration of the closure.
He also said the district will be treating the closure as snow days and will attempt to make up the days at the end of the school year.
Region 14’s schools include Nonnewaug High, Woodbury Middle, and both Mitchell and Bethlehem elementary schools.
Thus far, Connecticut has tested 56 people for COVID-19 and two residents, one from Wilton and one from Bethlehem, have tested positive. There are another 19 samples being tested today, according to state Department of Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell.
Coleman-Mitchell said they are training another seven employees at the State Lab in order to increase the lab’s daily testing capacity. She said they are currently doing 19 to 20 tests per day, but with the additional staff they will be able to process 50 to 60 tests per day, and she expects the newly trained staffers to be conducting tests on Monday.
The declarations – specifically a declaration of civil preparedness and public health emergencies – permit the governor to take certain actions related to the closure of schools and large gatherings, but at this time those decisions are still being delegated to local municipal and public health officials. Massachusetts joined Connecticut today with its own emergency declaration and both Rhode Island and New York had already made similar announcements.
“We’re operating under the assumption that we have community spread at this point,” Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, said. “So what we’ve been focused on the last 24 to 48 hours now is taking all the actions that we would take knowing that we do have community spread.”
Geballe said they’ve been thrilled with the response to their request to stop large community events of more than 100 people.
He said the decisions to cancel St. Patrick’s Day parades and to end the winter high school sports season early are the right steps they should be taking to slow the spread of COVID-19. Specifically, he said it is important to slow the spread so that the healthcare system is not overwhelmed by a sudden influx of people with the virus and maintains the capacity to deal with acutely ill patients.
Coleman-Mitchell said that the state’s public health lab in Rocky Hill is limited as to how much testing it can do even with additional staff, so the DPH asked all 27 of Connecticut’s hospitals if they are on board with providing sampling and testing once they’re able to do so.
She said all of the hospitals are on board, and on March 8 Greenwich Hospital became the first to be approved to take samples and conduct testing.
The hospitals are looking at how they can set up “alternative” sites, such as tents or trailers outside on hospital grounds, so that symptomatic individuals can be tested and/or treated without contaminating the hospitals themselves.
Quest Labs has developed a commercial test but Geballe said the state was told they are only testing samples at this time from California. Lab Corp is another large testing company that started testing samples Monday. Connecticut is in communication with the company to see when it can start shipping samples.
In addition, Attorney General William Tong said the emergency declarations mean people should be on the lookout for scams, profiteering, and price gouging – all of which are illegal.
“This is a moment to stand together and work together to confront COVID-19 and to help each other,” Tong said, adding that it is “never permissible” to take advantage of neighbors with price gouging or profiteering.
“It is illegal,” Tong said, and it will be prosecuted aggressively.
Tong said prices for products must be justified as if they are being sold in the usual course of business. “If not, you will be prosecuted,” he said, adding that people who discover these activities in the marketplace should contact the Attorney General’s office.
Glenn Lungarini, executive director of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), announced Tuesday morning in Cheshire that the organization had canceled the remaining state tournament games of the winter season based on the danger presented by COVID-19.
Aside from the threat posed by the virus, Lungarini said logistics were making it nearly impossible to finish the season. Having contacted school districts throughout the state, Lungarini said various school districts were all making different decisions with respect to how they would proceed with the winter sports state tournament games.
For instance, he said some school districts planned to host a home tournament game without allowing fans to attend, and some said their teams would participate as long as there were less than 100 people in attendance. Still others reported to the CIAC that they would not participate in any upcoming tournament games, and Lungarini also said several neutral site venues had informed the organization that they were pulling out of hosting games.
By Tuesday morning’s CIAC staff meeting, Lungarini said they had decided to cancel the remaining tournament games.
According to the New Haven Register, this year will mark the first time in 97 years the CIAC won’t hold a state championship game in boys basketball.
“The best use of our membership’s time is to focus on the educational needs of our students,” Lungarini said. “There are a lot of unknowns that still exist with COVID-19 in Connecticut. This has just begun here, so we don’t know exactly how far this will spread … But when we consider the best action we can take to address the needs of our schools, we feel that we should give them the opportunity at this point to focus on the educational needs of our students.”
As of Tuesday, no decision had been made regarding the upcoming spring sports seasons. A petition was launched to reinstate the remaining winter sports tournament games.
Before the announcement Tuesday, championships for boys and girls basketball, ice hockey, and swimming were all scheduled in the next few weeks.
“The CIAC understands the disappointment that many will feel,” Lungarini said. “But … the health and safety concerns of our athletes is our first priority.”