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Gov. Ned Lamont speaks to reporters in the Emergency Operations Center at the State Armory about his administration’s latest steps to combat coronavirus (ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT – With six confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont is being cautious and prohibiting events with over 250 people and he also issued a blanket waiver to school districts releasing them from the minimum 180-day school year requirement.

Lamont is still leaving to local officials the decision to close their schools, but many school districts in Fairfield County, which abuts Westchester County in New York where there are 148 confirmed cases, have closed or will be closed for two weeks starting Monday.

Lamont said they waived the minimum 180-day school year requirement in order to make sure superintendents felt comfortable making a decision that was in the best interest of public health.

At the same time, canceling school for two weeks means parents will struggle to juggle childcare and work.

Lamont has been working with Beth Bye, executive director of the Office of Early Childhood, to set up childcare facilities near Connecticut’s 26 hospitals so that healthcare workers can continue to do their jobs as cases of coronavirus multiply.

Bye said they have kits with books, diapers, and furniture to set up multiple childcare centers for up to 20 children each.

“It could be that hospitals don’t need it,” Bye said.

It’s unclear how many hospital or healthcare workers in Connecticut have young children, but she said the hospitals have been surveying their employees to ascertain the need.

She said if every single hospital took the state up on the offer for two months it would still be under $2 million.

“The governor’s been clear that these healthcare workers have to get to work,” Bye said.

They are currently mapping out locations for childcare facilities near hospitals and nursing homes. The facilities would be for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children.

Dr. Matthew Cartter, the State Epidemiologist and Director of Infectious Diseases, reminded everyone of the unusual circumstances of a pandemic.

“None of us have been through anything like this in more than 100 years,” Cartter said.

Connecticut officials seem to be constantly reassessing the situation and making decisions on an hourly basis as things change. Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe said he expects to provide new telecommuting guidance to state employees Friday.

Up until this week the only place in the state of Connecticut open for testing was the state lab in Rocky Hill. Prior to this week that lab had been able to test samples from less than 20 individuals per day, but that capacity is now closer to 50 to 60 individuals. However, Cartter acknowledged that’s still not enough.

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Dr. Matthew Cartter updates members of the news media on the coronavirus (ctnewsjunkie photo)

They are hoping hospitals will be able to do testing soon, but hospitals are struggling with obtaining the testing supplies they need, Cartter said.

The state expects Yale-New Haven Hospital to be able to begin testing within the next few days. There are about four hospitals in the state that may start testing soon, and others are planning to send samples to private labs like Quest or LabCorp.

“The most pressing problem we have now is not the availability of a laboratory test, but the ability to get the throat swab and the nasal swab taken on the patient,” Cartter said.

Because COVID-19’s symptoms – fever and cough – are similar to the flu, primary care doctors can no longer accept patients for flu tests because they could be carrying and spreading COVID-19.

That’s why acute care hospitals are working to set up alternative sites on their campuses to conduct testing while minimizing the risk of spreading the virus within the larger hospital population.

“We don’t know whether this is going to be one month or two months,” Lamont said.

Quoting Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Cartter said they expect that when it’s all over, about 70% of the population will have been infected with the virus. He qualified that by saying that figure might be reached following a possible second wave of the virus months from now.

That’s because no one has immunity to the novel coronavirus, and there is currently no vaccine.

Cartter said he expects to see the continued spread in Fairfield and Litchfield Counties over the next few weeks.

“These are events beyond our control,” Cartter said.

He said in the next month to two months he predicts 10% to 20% of the population will get the virus.

“This is only going to work if all of us work together to slow the transmission of the virus,” Cartter said.