HARTFORD, CT (UPDATED 10:45 p.m.) – Over the past week, Connecticut has gone from having zero cases of COVID-19 to 12 as of Friday evening.
Officials announced six more cases Friday afternoon in residents from Darien, Bethlehem, Westport, and Greenwich. Late Friday, officials at Hartford HealthCare announced the first positive case of novel coronavirus in Hartford County, a woman in her 80s from Rocky Hill.
The patient came through the emergency department “a few days” ago, according to Dr. Ajay Kumar, Hartford HealthCare’s chief clinical officer. Kumar said it was too early to say whether the woman had been living in a private home or a nursing home. Officials are now engaged in tracing the woman’s contacts prior to her hospitalization to determine how she contracted the virus and the individuals she may have interacted with.
Physicians stressed that this is only the beginning of an expected wave of coronavirus cases.
“There are probably a number of other people in our region who would test positive now if they had a test,” Kumar said. “We are doing everything we can to slow down the speed of transmission, to flatten the curve, but there are things all of us can do. It can’t be said enough, the most important precautions are the most basic ones.”
Both Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin and Rocky Hill Mayor Lisa J. Marotta thanked the health care workers for their efforts caring for the patient whose condition was described as “serious.”
“Although we are a state with 169 municipalities, we’re going to discover through this that we’re more tightly tied together than we ever imagined and we’re all going to have to work very, very closely together,” said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, who referenced the closure of schools and other social distancing measures being taken in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus.
Marotta said Rocky Hill is working very closely with the Department of Public Health following the discovery of this latest case.
“We will be working hard on contact tracing as well as the isolation process when that becomes necessary,” Marotta said. “We are working very closely with our central Connecticut health district. We have been preparing for this for quite some time. We have an active mitigation strategy plan in place presently, and we will continue to do all that we can do. Our hearts go out to the family of this patient here this evening.”
Earlier Friday, officials said 136 tests had been administered to Connecticut residents with 11 returning positive before the 12 case was announced.
Connecticut Department of Public Health Epidemiologist Matthew Cartter, M.D., said those numbers don’t include a child from Rhode Island who attends a daycare in Mystic. Cartter said the daycare has been closed, but it marks the first case in the eastern part of the state.
In addition, starting Monday 30% of the school districts have announced they will close for two weeks. That means no school for more than 50% of the student population.
Gov. Ned Lamont did not attend Friday’s press conference, but Josh Geballe, his chief operating officer, said he would soon be signing a new executive order restricting all visitor access to nursing homes, including attorneys and conservators.
The executive order was released at 8 p.m. It bans all visitors to nursing homes for the next 30 days.
Under the executive order and advice from Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell, the only ones allowed to enter a nursing home, aside from staff and patients, will be emergency medical personnel or law enforcement. It also makes exceptions for patients in end-of-life care where death is imminent.
“I know this is a very difficult issue for people with family members in nursing homes,” Geballe said. “I think it’s important to remind everyone that if you do have a loved one in a nursing home or in a hospital … the way you can best show your love for that person right now is actually to keep your distance.”
The elderly population is at the highest risk for complications related to the virus. The first outbreak of the virus in the United States took place at a nursing home in Kirkland, Wash.
The move was applauded by the nursing home industry.
“We believe that these measures are necessary and in the best interest of the health, welfare and safety of both our vulnerable nursing home residents and our nursing home employees,” Matthew Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, said.
During an earlier press conference with President Donald Trump, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said the vast majority of visitors to nursing homes will be banned.
Connecticut has struggled to rapidly increase its testing capacity for the virus, but has been making progress.
Three drive-through testing sites were open Friday: at Bristol Hospital, Waterbury Hospital, and Greenwich Hospital.
Cartter said it’s not about the number of people they can test at the moment, it’s the number of places they can get people sampled, while avoiding further spread of the virus.
Asked if parents should expect schools to stay closed beyond the next two weeks, Cartter said he was unable to answer that question.
“We don’t know for sure,” Cartter said.
He said the only thing they have to look at is influenza pandemics where the infections occur within a six- to eight-week period of time and there are three waves.
He said he expects to see a fall wave and a Spring 2021 wave if COVID-19 follows the same pattern as flu pandemics.
Meanwhile, the Department of Social Services announced it would require Medicaid coverage of telehealth services for both medical and behavioral health services. Telehealth is typically covered by commercial insurers, but Medicaid, which is the state and federal government health insurance program for low-income individuals had not been covering it.
“HUSKY is aligning with coverage options that were already available in the commercial market,” DSS Commissioner Deidre Gifford said.
Gifford said they will evaluate if telehealth whether something they will continue to cover.