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State Epidemiologist Dr. Matthew Cartter answers questions from reporters Wednesday (Walker Strong / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT – Dr. Matthew Cartter told reporters Wednesday that if you live in the southwestern part of the state, and you have a cough and a fever, you should assume that you have COVID-19 and it is critical that you take precautions against spreading the virus.

During a somber press conference in the state’s Emergency Operations Center, Cartter – the state’s top epidemiologist and its director of infectious diseases – said the state’s third confirmed case of COVID-19 is a New Canaan man who is over 65, and who had no recent travel outside Connecticut.

Based on that and other events over the last five days, Cartter said it is clear that community transmission is happening in Fairfield County, and that it’s only a matter of time before we see widespread transmission.

“If you have fever and a cough, for example, and you’re in the southwestern part of the state, you should assume that you have COVID-19,” Cartter said. “You don’t need a test to tell you that that’s what you have.”

Cartter said COVID-19, which is short for Coronavirus Disease 2019, is a pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) today also officially declared the coronavirus a pandemic as well.

“We have not seen a pandemic like this in over 100 years,” Cartter said. “These are challenging times. But like other pandemics, there are things we can do to slow it down and make sure our hospitals stay open to take care of people that get very sick.”

Coronavirus Update – March 11, 2020

State Epidemiologist Dr. Matthew Cartter told reporters today that if you have a cough and a fever in Fairfield County, assume you have #COVID19 and take appropriate precautions against spreading it. He said it’s only a matter of time before we have widespread transmission. Cartter also said the virus is likely to have a 6-8 week active period, but as a pandemic it might return for a second wave regardless of the seasonality of many upper respiratory illnesses.

Posted by CTNewsJunkie on Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Connecticut’s first confirmed case involved an individual who had recently returned from a trip to California, and the second case was confirmed in an individual who had recently returned from Nevada. But the latest case had no such circumstance.

Cartter said that because the coronavirus is now within state lines, he recommended that residents change their outlook.

Throughout this winter, he said most people would assume a fever with cough and aches was probably influenza. “Moving forward, that’s probably COVID-19,” Cartter said.

Cartter also discussed expectations and the difference between a seasonal flu or cold and a pandemic virus. He said they are assuming it will behave like other upper respiratory viruses and likely will be active for a 6- to 8-week period, he said.

However, despite its similarity to seasonal upper respiratory illnesses, he said pandemics aren’t seasonal. Like the H1N1 epidemic ten years ago, COVID-19 is starting later than traditional flu season. And the sickness may not be finished when it seems to be.

“In pandemics, it might very well be that we have a second wave in the fall,” Cartter said. “Just like in 2009 with H1N1. Right now the focus is on trying to mitigate the first wave. We don’t want everyone getting sick all at once.”

For people over age 65, Cartter said it’s time to start thinking carefully about avoiding crowds, or whether they should be the one to help a sick family member who is younger and more likely to recover.

He said people should take particular caution if they live in southwestern Connecticut, which is closest to recent outbreaks in New Rochelle, N.Y., and Westchester County. He pointed out that a lot of Connecticut residents commute through that area.

Walker Strong / ctnewsjunkie
Josh Geballe, the Lamont administration’s Chief Operating Officer, fills in some details for reporters on Wednesday (Walker Strong / ctnewsjunkie)

Gov. Ned Lamont did not attend Wednesday’s press conference but Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe said the governor had been on the phone all day with large employers, clergy and others in an effort to get them to take appropriate precautions regarding events with large numbers of people in close proximity, where there is a high risk of transmission.

“My sense is there’s not anyone who leads a large organization in this state who is not looking very actively at large events in particular and looking at way to either discontinue or postpone them to reduce the risk,” Geballe said.

Cartter said that the novel coronavirus, unlike the norovirus, doesn’t last very long on surfaces. He said norovirus was hard to kill and lived on surfaces for days. But coronavirus is easy to kill on surfaces, making the main concern “person-to-person transmission.

Geballe also said Lamont made a request to the federal government for 540,000 new N95 medical masks to distribute to Connecticut healthcare providers and first responders. He said he was hopeful that a delivery might arrive sometime in the next two weeks.

Cartter said the state lab in Rocky Hill now has five technicians, up from two just last Friday, who are certified to conduct testing for COVID-19. He expects that number to rise to seven following additional training this weekend, and he said they will be working three shifts going forward.

With the additional staff, Cartter said the lab is now capable of conducting 40 to 60 tests per day, up from less than 20 last week.

Cartter said a total of 74 coronavirus tests had been conducted by the lab as of Wednesday afternoon, and 16 tests are pending.

However, Cartter said this frenzied workload requires around-the-clock shifts. He’s worried about how the lab would handle larger numbers of cases.

At the moment, he said the state lab is currently only testing samples from those with severe enough symptoms to be hospitalized. The priority is ensuring those patients receive the right treatment for the illness they actually have.

“This is taking all of the resources in our lab right now,” Cartter said.

Commercial labs like Quest Diagnostics and Lab Corp recently posted on their sites that they are now accepting sample submissions from across the United States.

Cartter insisted that Connecticut will not follow some of the extreme containment practices seen recently in China and Italy, with town centers shut down and groceries delivered to people’s doors.

He also said Italy’s situation is unique in that they closed the country by region – a move that he described as an experiment in social distancing in an effort to slow the transmission of the virus. He added that the world will be following that effort closely to see if it works.